Summer In December Essie Summers Scanned and proofed by bils Version 1.

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‘For love they faced the wilderness, the women of the west.’ - GEORGE ESSEX EVANS

CHAPTER ONE JOANNA felt the mountains were giving her courage. She couldn’t have found the words at any other time, she was sure. Certainly she’d never have managed it back home with all the artificial whirl of Maria’s life about her. In fact, she couldn’t even have proposed it at that luxury hotel at the back of her, the Hermitage; but here, with Aorangi, the Cloud Piercer, above them, and with a sky like a blue enamelled bowl, and light striking back from the countless visible peaks of the Southern Alps, she felt nerved to do it.

These heights dwarfed one’s little human fears into correct perspective... which added up to: Do something about it! They were crying out to her: ‘This will be your last chance to break away, girl. Stop being such a coward. You’ve paid her back over and over again. If you don’t get away now you never will. Everyone is entitled to some freedom and this is the place to be free.’ So Joanna filled her lungs with the clean mountain air, gazed at Maria Delahunt’s unsuspecting back — Maria who had been christened plain Mary Hunter — watched her dabble her brush into a squeeze of flake white on her palette and transfer it to what was meant to be a mountain study on her canvas, and said casually, because she was foolish enough to hope Maria would take it without a scene, ‘Maria, as you really don’t need me when you are in Christchurch, I’ve decided to do a bit of touring on my own — hire a car and keep on exploring round here. I can join you later when your visit to the Mikkelsons is over.’ Maria’s back grew rigid. Oh dear. Joanna knew all the signs. She watched Maria relax herself a little, daub on, carefully controlled, then slowly set her brush in the jar on the rocky ground. This was to give the impression that she was as absorbed as if she had been a great artist. It was the same with every hobby she took up and dropped.

‘It’s such good publicity,’ she would say. ‘One man in his time must play many parts, you know. And my public loves it. They identify themselves with me because I love the things they love.’ So Maria had been photographed starry-eyed over some rare stamp some fan had sent her, probably at a considerable sacrifice. It was still one of Joanna’s chores to write letters of thanks to the people who still sent stamps, believing Maria was a genuine collector. It made Joanna feel a hypocrite. Maria had been photographed on board heeling yachts — carefully primed beforehand with anti-seasick pills. ‘The sea is in her blood,’ that caption had read. Maria, the dog-lover, posing with a poodle in her arms, a corgi at her feet, a huge Irish wolfhound looking over her shoulder. There had been another of Maria in waders, casting a line, for the fish she had no intention of catching; Maria adoring babies... beautifully dressed babies, of course, smelling of talc powder and baby soap, never crying, wet- tailed babies... they had been lucky no one had ever left one on their doorstep after that bout of articles and pictures... Joanna had time to think of all this before Maria deigned to turn round. The vague look (that meant Maria’s brain was working at top speed) was in her beautiful dark eyes. ‘Sorry, darling Joanna, but I was so absorbed... the spirit of these mountains has so possessed me, I’m really not with you this morning. Was it anything important? Or just a casual remark?’

This was to give Joanna time to regret rushing into speech — time to retract without a showdown or unpleasantness. Many people did so under these tactics, because when Maria was unpleasant, she was very, very unpleasant indeed. Usually, Joanna quailed and retreated. She knew this and despised herself for it. But not this time. The mountains had got into her spirit too. She proceeded to say so, clearly and distinctly. ‘You heard me all right, Maria. Don’t pretend, please. The mountains have got into my blood too. For once I want a holiday completely on my own. I told you before we left England that I’d like to see this estate my great-uncle loved so well when he was young. And it wouldn’t have taken very long from here, only you wouldn’t do without me. So I’m taking longer. Three whole weeks is what I’m having. I’ll join you in Christchurch or Wellington. Cora will be with you and Shane will be able to cope with the mail. You said yourself there wouldn’t be much.’ She finished speaking and waited, her eyes steady, her bearing giving nothing away of how she was feeling... her icy-cold palms, the faint pricking at the nape of her neck, the quickened tempo of her heart. Maria got to her feet and the eyes that could be as melting as a spaniel’s were as cold as if carved in stone. ‘Joanna! I’m forbearing enough to think that you must have got a touch of this winter sun! I’m always prepared to consider any reasonable request you

may make — indeed I pamper and spoil you — but I will not tolerate this tone, this high-handedness. Until now you have always asked me — consulted me — asked if it would be convenient. Now you have the effrontery to stand before me — interrupting my painting at a most difficult moment — and say you have already decided. Why are you doing this?’ Joanna lifted her chin a little and said distinctly and without a tremor, ‘Because asking never gets me anywhere. You always rake up some excuse to keep me with you. And I — poor-spirited thing — always give in.’ She saw the colour rising from Maria’s throat and felt her stomach muscles tighten to withstand what would follow. Surprisingly, Maria kept a check on her temper. ‘Joanna, you must have taken leave of your senses. Where’s your gratitude? Your sense of duty? Can you imagine what your life would have been like had I not taken you under my wing? My very luxurious wing! How many people in my position would have taken their housekeeper’s child and reared her as their own... lavished on you every good thing... educated you? Even to giving you the chance of following in my footsteps, or of becoming a ballet dancer... but you threw every chance away. Do you never stop to think you might have been brought up in an orphanage, denied lovely clothes and lavish living? You might never have travelled or have tasted life in the way you have tasted it with me.’

Joanna’s voice was quiet but firm, and she resisted the temptation to answer the reproaches. ‘Maria, I’m only asking for three weeks off. Three weeks in which — for once — to do as I please. I’m twenty-four and I’m beginning to feel I need a life of my own, not just a shadow of yours. I’ve been like a daughter of the house, yes, but even daughters get married and live their own lives.’ Maria put a hand to her head with a practised gesture of pain, bewilderment and disillusion. It was the gesture she used in ‘The Older Sister’ series. Maria’s voice held a throb of real-sounding anguish. ‘Joanna darling, darling, what is this? Have I ever been possessive? Have I? Have I? Tell me!’ Six months ago Joanna would have answered hastily, feeling an ingrate, ‘Of course not, Maria. Of course not.’ But this Joanna said instantly: ‘Yes, you have, I’m afraid, very possessive.’ It put Maria Delahunt out. For a moment she forgot her part and said sharply: ‘I am not! Have I not time and again said I’d love you to get married?’ Joanna managed to control a threatened trembling in her voice and said, ‘Maria, I think that needs qualifying. You’ve said time and again you’d like me to marry Shane.’ Maria’s voice held a more natural note, a slight vindictiveness.

‘You’re a fool if you let him slip through your fingers. A girl like you can’t afford to be choosy. Oh, you’ve got looks, I admit that... but no personality. Men look for more than looks these days. You’re too quiet, Joanna. You’ve no interesting facets. Look at that Suter girl. Abbie Suter. No looks at all . . . irregular features but chock-full of personality. The men are like moths round a candle.’ Joanna laughed spontaneously, ‘Oh, come, Maria, you aren’t as naive as all that. Abbie’s got something all right, but it’s not what I’d call personality. It’s nothing but an attractive animal charm. If you shook her she’d rattle. Not the sort of girl to last with men. Besides, I’m not particularly longing to get married. I just want to be on my own for a bit, to please myself and nobody but myself. To get to know the real me. To develop my personality. Something I’ve never had a chance to do.’ ‘Maria, I’m very grateful for all the material things you’ve provided, but when you say I’m lacking in personality, you’ve put your finger on the crux of the whole matter... isn’t there a saying, “not the rose, but the shadow of the rose”? That’s me. You are the rose. I feel shadowy. I feel unreal. I’d like the chance to find myself.’ Maria, her face unbecomingly suffused with a purplish shade, baring her bottom teeth, said, ‘You are jealous! You had no artistic ability yourself... despite all the chances I gave you... I who had to work my way up from the lowest rung... and now you are jealous of me!’

Out of the corner of her eye she was observing Joanna and what she saw worried her. Joanna looked so completely in control. Not reproached, not confused, not ready to say sorry. Joanna said slowly, as if thinking it out, ‘No, I’m not jealous, Maria. I never wanted to act. I never wanted to dance. I couldn’t possibly be jealous of you. I’m awfully proud of your acting ability. I’d like just to be ordinary.’ She laughed at herself. ‘Very ordinary, probably. Perhaps if I had never had a taste of your sort of life I’d want it, parties and receptions and first nights and all sorts of gala occasions... but I really suppose I come from very ordinary stock and can’t rise above it.’ ‘I like my secretarial work, but not all the social life that goes with it. And I must get away from it for a bit. And, as I said before, it’s only three weeks I’m taking. It’s not worth making all this fuss about.’ Maria dashed her jet-black hair off her forehead, flashed a wounded, angry glance at Joanna and said: ‘You are taking, not asking.’ Joanna said simply, ‘I would have asked had there been the slightest chance you would say yes, but I knew there wasn’t. So... yes, I’m taking it. You could have given me a week off while we were here. That’s all I’d have needed to have visited Moana-Kotuku. And after all, as your secretary, I’m really entitled to a holiday — very few employees spend all their holidays with their employers — so I made up my mind.’

‘I’ll go down with you all as far as Fairlie or get the tourist coach if you’d rather not take me. I’ve booked a rental car in Fairlie. I’ll drive it back to Lake Tekapo and find my way to the sheep-station from there. I booked the car yesterday when you were resting. I’m not staying with you at the Mikkelsons’, so I knew you didn’t need me. I’d much rather explore this alpine region by myself than just fill in time in a hotel in Christchurch.’ If Maria’s eyes had been stone-cold before they were fiery now! She took as dramatic and firm a step as possible on the rough terrain and said: ‘You’ll do this and you’ll do that! Let me tell you, Joanna, that you’re a paid servant just like the rest of them. I never legally adopted you. You are simply — from this moment — my secretary. And as my secretary I am quite entitled to dismiss you if you carry out this crazy scheme of yours, completely disregarding my comfort and convenience. I can tell Shane to give you a month’s wages in lieu of notice and you can find your own way back to England! And remember this, you’ll never, never now get a penny of my money when I die!’ Even while she was still saying this she was dismayed to notice, first, a light spring into Joanna’s eyes, then to hear her chuckle. Joanna said, ‘Oh, Maria, you haven’t exactly got one foot in the grave, you know. I’ll be quite old myself when that happens; I hope so. You’ll act for many years yet — one of the best-loved character actresses of the television screen. And rightly so. You are a superb actress. But you know perfectly well there’s no will in my favour — you have this odd superstition about making a

will. Mr. Charlton has begged you to do so over and over. Shane’s your only living relative, so it will go to him, and rightly so. He works very hard for you.’ ‘I’m sorry you feel like this. You’ve made a huge mountain out of a very tiny molehill. But Maria, you said you might terminate my position with you. Would you do just that? Get another secretary? I don’t know why, exactly, but I feel I’d like to stay here. For a while at least. Probably I’d get homesick for England eventually, but I’d like a working holiday here. I’d like to stand on my own feet for a change, make my own friends.’ It was not often that anyone ever saw Maria Delahunt completely dumbfounded. But Joanna witnessed it now. She wondered why on earth she hadn’t stood up to her before. It was easier than she’d thought. Perhaps the hold Maria had gained upon her had been largely Joanna’s own fault. If you were too meek, you created tyranny. Because, despite all that Maria had lavished upon her, it had been tyranny. But the knowledge that but for Maria Delahunt she would have had to go into an orphanage had always kept back the quick retort, the potential rebellion, until Joanna had become almost incapable of asserting herself. For the first time ever Joanna saw Maria retreat from a stated position. Certainly she did it in her own way, and after long argument. Finally she capitulated with a maddening air of humouring an ungrateful child, but Joanna did not quibble over that. She hadn’t wanted to hurt Maria, just to

make it plain that for once she was going to go off on her own for a holiday, instead of dancing attendance as usual on all Maria’s fabulous and publicized vacations, with never anything of the simplicity and quietness Joanna craved. Because she knew full well that even in Christchurch, Maria would be constantly on the phone to her. Besides, even beautiful Christchurch was yet another city. Joanna wanted solitude. Maria said, ‘I shall tell Shane I am indulging you in this unexpected whim — and you can go off and see for yourself just how different life is, without our love and protection. And who knows? When you return to us, you may even have made up your mind about Shane. I’m sure he’s your destiny.’ Joanna said gently, yet with great conviction, ‘He isn’t, you know. He belongs to Anne. And as for me, even if he didn’t, he’s not my man. If ever I do marry I don’t want this sort of life at all, Maria. Please do try to understand. Sometimes I feel like a larch sapling someone’s foolishly trying to grow in a greenhouse. Better growing in the bracing air of the mountains. I’d like someone ordinary. In a nine-to-five job, coming home to evenings by the fire. Or a farmer. I used to look at those farmhouses in Somerset and Devon and think how I’d love to sample life in one.’ Maria realized Joanna was now a little more amenable, after her outburst, and permitted herself a little excusable sarcasm. ‘Well, I must say you’d make a wonderful farmer’s wife... pity the poor farmer, that’s all. You couldn’t even boil an egg.’

Joanna laughed too, but said ruefully, ‘I wasn’t allowed to try. I did want to be allowed in the kitchen when I was small, didn’t I? But you wouldn’t allow it.’ Maria ignored that and said crisply, mightily relieved that it hadn’t come to a complete break, ‘Well, go off and live the simple life for three weeks or so and you’ll probably be very glad to get back to the fleshpots. I’ll forgive you. Most girls, tied to domestic chores and a couple of dribbling babies, long for the sort of life you’ve had, for the chances you have thrown away. And this has completely ruined my morning’s painting. It’s gone... my inspiration.’ Joanna looked at the hotch-potch of brush-strokes that adorned the canvas and felt no burden of remorse. The world would survive the loss of that particular painting! But now it was over she felt weak at the knees, especially as she knew Shane would be immensely displeased. ‘Think of it, Joanna,’ he had said, when Maria had announced she was taking only Cora, her maid, with her to Mikkelsons’. ‘We’ll be practically on our own. It will be marvellous not to dance to the way Maria pulls the strings.’ Joanna had surveyed him frankly. ‘But you certainly do let her call the tune, don’t you, Shane?’ He’d shrugged. ‘Well, I’d be a fool if I didn’t, wouldn’t I? I’m her next-of-kin. And my job as her publicity manager gives me the sort of job I like... travel... theatre... luxury.’

Joanna had said, ‘But, Shane, you’ve got ability — real ability — you could make your own way.’ He’d laughed, tweaking Joanna’s chin. ‘Yes, little by little. And it would be little, lacking all those generous handouts of my aunt’s when she’s in the mood. No, thanks. I know which side my bread’s buttered. Darling, what’s come over you lately? Do I detect incipient rebellion? What’s the matter? Maria getting on your nerves a bit? Well, she does on mine occasionally, but what employer doesn’t? It’s worth it. Splendid salary, all living expenses, a car of my own. Only one fly in the ointment for me and that is that you won’t play ball. It’s quite stupid. We live under the one roof now. It’s quite inevitable that we should wed. Why not say the word?’ For once, Joanna had been fierce. ‘Because even if I loved you, Shane, I’d not want to go on living under Maria’s roof. And you would never make the break. Not for me, anyway. When I have children of my own, I don’t want them under anyone’s dominance as I was, being pushed into things I didn’t want to do. My children are going to live lives of their own... and when I marry I want a completely new and different life.’ ‘Wouldn’t work, Joanna. You’re too used to this. You couldn’t stand being a wage-earner’s wife. Month or so after the honeymoon you’d realize you’d made a ghastly mistake. We suit, Joanna. It would be perfect. And Maria would be delighted.’

She’d brushed back her coppery hair wearily. ‘Shane, you know it wouldn’t work. It lacks something... and you know what! Shane, tell me something, honestly, please? Look me straight in the eye and tell me you are absolutely certain, beyond any shadow of doubt, that after we were married, you’d never look back nostalgically to what you had with Anne?’ Shane had tried to hold her gaze and hadn’t been able to do it. He’d turned away. ‘Oh, damn, damn Anne!’ he’d said. Joanna had put an arm on his shoulder affectionately. ‘Shane, some day you’ll realize you can’t live without Anne. I only hope you’ll not leave it too late, that’s all. She is right, you know. She could never have lived with Maria. Anne is too fearless, too impatient with humbug, with insincerities. I’m only a second-best with you.’ He’d caught her hand. ‘Joanna, I swear I’d never let you feel that. There’s more to it than that. If — if Anne had really loved me, she’d have taken me and my sort of life.’ ‘No, Shane. Because Anne truly loved you she wanted the best for you. She wanted to see you take a stand, be strong. No woman wants to see her man dominated by another — compromising with his conscience at times because of Maria wanting her own way. Anne wants to see you overcome your tendency to take the easy path, and anyway, I don’t love you, Shane. Not the way I feel one ought to love.’

He’d looked at her sombrely, made an impatient gesture. ‘Joanna, the trouble is we both live in this highly dramatic world — the world of Maria. We expect love to be all fireworks and moonshine — and can’t settle for less. Not everybody finds a true mate, you know — a deathless love.’ ‘Perhaps not, Shane, but I wouldn’t dare marry you just in case I met someone later for whom I’d feel — well, someone I’d feel I belonged to. And it won’t be in this artificial world. It will be in a much more simpleworld. That’s final, Shane.’ Yet three months later, Shane was still persisting, and Joanna knew she must get away.

It went more smoothly than she’d dared hope. They dropped her in Fairlie, teasingly derisive about the little township. Certainly it didn’t have the gentle charm of an English village, but it had a serenity all its own with the river threading through, fringed with leafless willows, and with foothills high enough to be called mountains back home, making two-thirds of a circle about the little township. Maria’s smile held a tinge of malice. ‘This is probably the origin of the saying: “A one-horse town,” Joanna. I give you joy of it. Are you really going to make this your headquarters?’

Joanna suddenly felt deliciously free. ‘I don’t know where my headquarters will be. Perhaps Lake Tekapo. It’s just that I’m hiring the car here. I suppose they can tell me the road to take for Moana-Kotuku.’ Maria said: ‘I hope you don’t get stuck in the ford,’ and meant, of course, it would serve Joanna right if she did. Joanna laughed. ‘I don’t expect it’s any worse than the ford we crossed when we went to that homestead out from Queenstown. They called that a river. It wasn’t much more than one of our village water-splashes back home.’ Shane uttered a word of warning, ‘But didn’t you hear Mr. Dugnall say sometimes it was a torrent?’ Joanna shrugged. ‘No, but I daresay they love to exaggerate. If it was as shallow as that in mid-winter, I can’t see it ever being a raging torrent!’ That sounded logical. How was she to know that some rivers were snow-fed and swelled to hundreds of times their size when the thaw set in? How was she to know that at this very moment on this Indian summer day, that sun was preparing an answer to her? It was good to be alone, to pick up the car, make a few inquiries and set off. The garage man said, ‘Moana-Kotuku? You mean Heronscrag Homestead? It’s a fairish way. You’ll ring them, of course, before you go in?’

Joanna thought that odd. He must mean in case they were out and she went all that way for nothing. He’d think she intended to visit them. Unless that particular homestead had a dislike of unheralded guests. But that would be very unusual for New Zealand, surely? At Queenstown they’d been overwhelmed by hospitality. Though, to be sure, it could have been due to the fact that the people, naturally, were delighted to be entertaining an overseas television star. Anyway, it didn’t matter to her. She wasn’t going to call on the people there. She was just going to have a look round the boundaries, take some coloured photos for the fun of it, just as people from here came to England and took photos of the haunts of their ancestors. She’d never heard of Heronscrag till she’d suddenly discovered she had a relation — one relation in the world — not long before they had left England for New Zealand. What a fine figure of a man he had been, tall, broad-shouldered, bronzed — till he became so desperately ill. He was newly in from Australia, and was astounded to think that of his reasonably large family of sisters and brothers, only one descendant remained, Joanna Marlowe. He was her mother’s uncle, and evidently her mother had known of him only as an uncle who had emigrated as a young man and with whom his family had lost touch.

Joanna had supposed he’d gone direct to Australia, but it wasn’t till he was so ill that she’d learned he had gone first to New Zealand and farmed among the mountains. In the hours that Joanna had spent at his bedside, whenever Maria spared her, he had talked almost incessantly of those tough, gruelling days, yet with a light in his eye that was never present when he mentioned the later, wealthier years. ‘The mountains get you,’ he’d said. ‘You never belong to yourself again. We used to muster at four and five thousand feet. Never on horseback, always on foot. You had to become a mountaineer to take it. I can see it now, lassie, the big shingle fans between the mountains... dangerous they were... you could set the whole face moving if you were careless. You had to read the signs... of the terrain beneath your feet and the skies and clouds above. The sure and certain indications that there was snow on the way, or mist, or an electrical storm. Oh, what I’d give to see one of those playing over Mount Erebus once more! Or over Dragonshill beyond the lake.’ Joanna, her hand in his, had said, ‘If you loved it so, Uncle Henry, why did you leave it? Why did you go to Australia?’ He’d tightened his grip, then relaxed it and said, ‘There was a woman in it, of course. She was very lovely. I was madly in love with her, and honestly thought she loved me too. Perhaps I was too idealistic, too sure of myself and her. I did know that we mountain men weren’t as eligible as the ones who

lived nearer the towns and cities — it will be so different now, better access, more amenities — the life up there was tough on women.’ ‘The solitude and the isolation from doctors and from other women are hard to take, but Kirsty seemed to love it even as I did. But if it had been only that I’d not have broken my heart over it. And it came so suddenly. She seemed to have such a revulsion of feeling. She laughed at me. Said I must think she was really crazy about me to take on that sort of life... but that when it came to the bit, it wasn’t that, but the fact that the life had made me crude, that I lacked polish, that I had no finer feelings. Oh, what’s the use of talking of it now? It was way back in the days of the Depression. And a lot of water has flowed under the mill since and down the Waimihi River too for that matter. Waimihi means the Water of Regret, Joanna. There’s been a lot of regretting there, believe me... Cruel, wonderful country. And Kirsty was like that too... cruel and wonderful.’ ‘Yet now I mostly just remember the wonder of her, the sunlight catching her hair and turning it to pure copper — She had hair like yours, but she didn’t have brown eyes, she had eyes that were the colour of Lake Tekapo, which is so different from the other lakes. The others are deep sea blue. Tekapo is sheer turquoise. Kirsty’s eyes were like that. Paua shell eyes, one moment green, the next blue.’ Joanna said slowly, ‘Did you never see her again? I mean after she — gave you up?’

‘No. She married two months later. Always wondered why she just couldn’t have said straight out she loved someone else. He inherited a large amount very soon after. I think she must have known he would. There was no reason to flay me as she did — unless she was trying to convince herself she’d fallen out of love with me. He gave her a city home on Cashmere Hills above Christchurch, parties, theatres, the lot.’ ‘But oh, what’s the odds? I’ve had a darned interesting life, Joanna. It’s just that when you get older certain things stand out. There are two things for me... the years I spent on Heronscrag... three as a rouseabout, two as the owner, if you can call it owning it, with the sort of mortgages you had to take on in those days... and the spring Kirsty came into my life. The spring I thought she was returning my love.’ ‘It was all over by December. High summer. Can you imagine having summer in December, Joanna? At Heronscrag the lambs are only a few weeks old in December and up on the mountains the giant ranunculi are out... mountain lilies they call them. Frail and beautiful, blooming out of shingle. On the plains and in sheltered places they start lambing in August in New Zealand, sometimes even July, which is mid-winter. But up there we started on the first of November and finished five or six weeks later. I never saw another lambing there, another summer.’ He’d smiled at her mistily. ‘You’ll think I’m a garrulous old man, and so I am. I’ve not as much as mentioned Kirsty’s name

since that time. But I didn’t want to shuffle off this mortal coil before telling someone. And you were the right one, somehow.’ ‘You remind me so of her. I sort of felt no one would remember her if I didn’t tell you. Which is stupid... I suppose she has sons and daughters and grandchildren now.’ He’d looked away for a moment, then said, his gaze on a sparrow sitting on the hospital windowsill, ‘But none of them could possibly have loved her as I loved her... and seeing you’re going so near there — the Hermitage is in the same area — I’d like you to go up that road and look at that homestead set among the trees I planted... the trees I thought our children would swing under... and remember me... and Kirsty.’ And he had fallen into a deep, deep sleep, his hand in Joanna’s.

So she had had this strange compulsion to see it, the urge that had driven her to defy Maria. The homestead, she knew, was built above Moana-Kotuku, the Lake of the Rare White Heron... and beneath Heron’s Crag, where sometimes the kotuku flew in to rest from its breeding place on the West Coast, a huge kowhai tree at Okarito, on its way to the swamps of the Taieri, would be the homestead Uncle Henry had loved. It had been unthinkable to be so near and not to see it. She drove steadily, the sun hot through the glass with this dry, glorious heat she had known in luxury holidays in Austria and Switzerland. The sky was

intense, cloudless blue, the glare from the snowy tops making her resort to sun-glasses and, except for patches of green in the cultivated paddocks of the far apart farms, the prevailing colour was tussock-gold, hot and slightly scorched-looking. Sometimes the road widened out into river-flats, where in great shingle beds, shallow streams intersected, making their ways to the Pacific across the plains beyond. Sometimes the road dipped into great native beech forests, quite different from her own English beeches, except that the tiny leaves were the same shape. Joanna stopped and had her sandwiches beside a mountain stream in a narrow, beautiful valley whose lush growth of fern and moss and dense evergreen bush contrasted vividly and richly with the bare shingle and tussock of the last few miles. How long she sat and dreamed, she did not know. It was so heavenly just to be alone. Joanna asked nothing more of life at that moment. No artificiality, no pretence, no tantrums and temperament, just this singing happiness within her, a bell-bird adding to it, by singing from a kowhai tree the other side of the stream, and the sun glinting on the multi-coloured pebbles worn to perfect smoothness by the glacial action of thousands upon thousands of years; the aromatic tang of a New Zealand forest that was like nothing else she had ever known, spicy, fern-sweet, rich.

She realized she must get on. She remembered how early the sun set among these ranges, especially on this east side, because the sun dropped behind them so quickly. She must waste no more time from now on. Still, it had been only eleven-thirty when she had stopped. And even if, when returning from seeing Heronscrag, it became dark, it wouldn’t matter, because she would stay the night at Lake Tekapo and not risk the mountain pass. The man at the garage had told her that a road forked off at the side of Lake Tekapo and that there would be three names on the signpost, to Taumata Station, to Moanaside, and to Heronscrag. Joanna knew by now that station had nothing whatever to do with railways. The big properties were called that here. Only three homesteads, so it couldn’t be far, even if the farms were very far apart here. What was it someone had said at the Hermitage? That ‘up here they don’t reckon on so many sheep to the acre, but on so many acres to the sheep!’ Long before the first homestead came into view Joanna had decided she must be nearly at Heronscrag itself, and that the other homesteads must be so far back in their trees and foothills that you couldn’t see them, and in her concentration on keeping the car in the right ruts, she had missed the gates or cattle-grids — at least cattle-stops as they called them here.

What roads! She thought wryly of Uncle Henry’s remark that access would now be improved. She decided nothing must have been done to this since he had left New Zealand. It was hopefully called a shingled road. Or so the garage man had said. Actually, it was sheer clay, sprinkled with stones. She struggled up out of it, on a rise, and felt firmer surface —though not smooth — beneath the tyres. Then she saw the first gate. A big mail box, for provisions as well, stood beside it and was marked: ‘J.M. Benneson, Taumata.’ Heavens, only the first! But of course the next one might be quite near. They probably built the houses on the most level places, which were few and far between. But it was miles on. As it came into view Joanna stopped the car in sheer delight. Moanaside, naturally, was above the Lake of the Rare White Heron... it was quite ten minutes before she finished gazing her fill and remembered to take some photographs. What superbly coloured photos she would have. The wind was rippling the surface, and the sun, from the north, was glinting on a myriad facets of light. On the far side, classical mountains rose in pure white peaks, mirroring their remote grandeur in the depths beneath. An island like a crescent moon, but dark with pines, floated like a jewel on the surface at this end, and below the road larch trees, in delicate filigree of leafless branches, gave it a slightly Canadian air.

Back against the brow of the nearest hill, Moanaside Homestead nestled, she supposed, because the heavily shingled drive led right into a magnificent stand of trees that would have been planted for shelter from the storms that would sweep up from the lake on days that were not like this one... a hot day in the midst of winter. That drive must be at least a mile and a half long. Joanna hoped Heronscrag would be a little more visible, yet with a long drive, so she could venture up it for photographs, and be away without anyone any the wiser. She drove on and found that the mountains at the far end of that kingfisher blue water were getting very near. Uncle Henry had said the road ended at Heronscrag. Suddenly a row of sheds came into view, perched right on the edge of the high bank above the river and she could see the end of the road. It simply dipped down the bank. How strange. Joanna had expected the road to bend away from the bank, run through the ford which would be a tributary to this river, she supposed, and lead up to the homestead. And she’d be able to take her photographs from a strategic position. She’d seen enough of back-country hospitality to know that most isolated homesteads would make her very welcome, but she felt too shy to make herself known. Uncle Henry Dean would be remembered as a failure, the

man who took on the high country life, but couldn’t make it pay, couldn’t stand the isolation, the toughness, the sacrifices needed. Nobody now would know he had left it because Heronscrag held too many memories, too many broken dreams for him. That much she had gathered from his ramblings when he was ill. The sheds were little more than open garages. Only two had doors. These, she noticed with surprise, were not locked. There was a battered-looking old van in the third and a motorcycle in the fourth. Two were empty save for junk, but there was plenty of space for vehicles. One actually had a telephone in it! Joanna walked to the edge. Oh, the road — or track — actually led to the very edge of the water, so this then must be the ford. It was a very shallow, paltry-looking little stream. The only thing was that where the ford at that Queenstown farm had been a single stream, here there was one stream after another bubbling along in the sunlight. It made a very wide, shingle river-bed of it. It didn’t look very far, but Joanna would have preferred to cross one stream only. Between this stream and the next, though, was a very well-defined track, and posts were stuck each side. That must be to indicate to strangers where the best crossing was. Joanna could just see the homestead roof, nestled into a stand of what was possibly larch and pine, but standing high enough to make a good picture.

But it was too far away. It would be just a dark blur on a grey and white mountain scene. It would have no identity. Pity this river-bed was so wide. She ought to have had a telescopic lens. Well, these streams were only trickles, and the shingle was firm and hard. Joanna ran the car down the bank very gently, exhilarated with the sense of adventure. She thought complacently that not many English girls, used to the wonderful surfaces of the roads back home, would have attempted even that rutty road that had led here, much less a river crossing. Though that was coming it a bit strong, you couldn’t dignify this by the name of river! The trucks had evidently crushed the surface into a hard, consolidated mass and in no time at all she had crossed seven narrow trickles and was near enough for what she wanted. She felt proud of herself, here alone in all this vastness, unafraid. She who had been afraid of things so long, afraid of offending Maria, afraid she’d get pushed into accepting Shane, afraid she’d never find the courage to stand up to them, afraid that if she did break away, she’d be branded as an ingrate, the girl to whom all things had been given, but who had no gratitude in her. But not any more. She had stood up against Maria, held out against the threat of dismissal, and Maria had been the one to give in. She, Joanna Marlowe, wasn’t going to be afraid of anything, ever again.

She finished taking the photographs, using up the entire film, taking peak after peak and view after view of the lake downstream. She sat down on the edge of the car, munched her sandwiches, and had another cup of tea. Then, noticing the sun was dropping, and aware that she’d sat dreamily on, absorbing the beauty and colour, began to pack up. Just as she pressed the self-starter, she became aware of a sound not noticed before. At least not as loud. It was as if the singing sound of the waters had increased a hundredfold. A faint tremor of alarm feathered along Joanna’s wrists. Then she told herself not to be stupid. There had been no rain to swell the streams, no electrical storm to produce what they called a flash-flood. But she’d get going just the same. It was probably nothing — simply that all of a sudden you became more aware of a sound. Her eyes swept the scene from left to right as she turned round. Nothing changed... and here was the first stream on her way back, no different from when she’d crossed it. The second was the same, but when she came to the third, she paused. It seemed definitely deeper. Still, not such a great volume of water. It was just that it had been so low before. She took it steadily in her lowest gear and knew a great relief when she gained the other side. Only four more, and if none of them were deeper than that, she’d be over in no time.

The next was the same, she thought, but it had become much wider where the poles bordered the tracks. It was definitely narrower slightly upstream. Much better, she thought, in her ignorance, to get through as quickly, as possible. She went in with caution, driving well, but immediately felt the shingle shift and scour out under the wheels, no longer a compact mass. She knew a moment of sheer panic, rebuked herself, and had the sense to keep the revs up. She knew she’d never get it started again if the engine stalled. For the next few moments she thought only of how dreadful it would be to get a hired car stranded in a river; no thought of not being able to get out herself entered her head. She’d only have to get out and wade through. Then suddenly, with a sickening realization, the shingle scoured out under the back wheel on the passenger side and the whole car tilted over and she was suddenly scared for herself. She wasn’t going to be able to make it! She revved up more... that bank wasn’t really so very far away and it wasn’t high, if only the shingle would stay firm... should she get out of the car and plunge into it? But what if huge holes were forming now? She felt the car grip, lift up and strain towards the bank, and she was almost urging it on bodily, praying to the might of a man-made engine, not knowing whether the sound in her ears was just a drumming, or the sound of waters rising and rushing The next moment a shadow darkened over her, there was the bash of a hand on the window and a voice shouted through the gap at the top, ‘What the

hell d’ye think you’re doing? No, don’t answer that... for God’s sake keep those revs going, but turn your wheel back... turn it right!’

CHAPTER TWO She had almost, but not quite, relaxed the pressure of her foot on the accelerator as she gave an instinctive quick glance up and saw a man on a horse, water spraying up, looming over the car. He was bent over and shouting instructions with an urgency that jerked her into obeying implicitly. ‘Keep the revs going steadily... you’ll have to get it out yourself, but I’m here if you can’t make it and I’ll get you out somehow, even if we lose the car, but I dare not take over now — we might lose the revs — pull her well round to the right and head downstream a little way. Let the water help you out. You’ve got to come back on this side... you can’t cross over... turn her downstream. Down, girl! There’s a shingle bank further down, you can’t get swept away... edge into it. It will stop you at the worst, and at the best, you can use it to climb out... that’s it! Come on...’ His hand came through the window, grasped the wheel above her hand,helped her hold it against the tug of the current. ‘Give her the juice... now! You’re coming... you’re coming... hold it... now again, steady does it... you’re making it...’ His horse began to slip a bit. He shouted, ‘Easy, Jason, easy! Look, if I have to let go I’ll be back with you in a moment... steady, boy, steady... if I do, grab the wheel more firmly. Ah... better... better! The wheels are gripping... now give her all you’ve got... on... on ... up!’

Joanna had felt the wheels grip, slither, grip, slither, then suddenly grind and keep on grinding. The roar of the engine and the drumming of her pulses and the sound of the rushing waters were all one horrible blurring sound and when she came up out of that tugging, racing, insistent pressure of the river, she didn’t know it and was still racing her engine till commanded to stop by that shouting, bullying voice. Joanna’s teeth were still clenched, her fingers gripping the wheel with numbing force. He was off his horse in a split second and opening the car door. ‘Shove over, but if she shows any sign of stalling, jam your foot back on.’ He managed and she managed and as soon as his foot was safely on the accelerator, she shuffled away from him. He leaned out and said, ‘Right, Jason, follow us, come on,’ and he set the car moving. Joanna said weakly, ‘I — I’m sorry—’ Her companion said, ‘Quiet! No time for explanations... I want to race this water. It floods on the home side later than this side, but not much later. Now, not a word!’ Joanna felt she must, she must be in a nightmare, that she couldn’t have got herself — and this man — into a situation like this — she, who had been timid so long.

There were five streams to go and the second last one was a horrible experience; she’d never have managed it herself, she knew. The man beside her did it in a grim silence that boded ill for her when they were safely over. If they got over. He only broke it once, when she had twisted round to see if the horse were safely following. He said: ‘Sit still!’ and she offered no excuse, but she had seen out of the tail of her eye that the horse was picking his way carefully as one long used to rivers, though the sight of the water spraying up against the animal made Joanna feel sick. There was a moment when she thought they were over, but the expertise of her rescuer righted it again and the next moment they were slowly but surely coming out on to a strand of shingle much further downstream from their point of entry. Then and only then did he permit himself to speak normally. ‘The next one is never dangerous. A side trickle, no more.’ They were through it and on to a firm track and just beyond them was the semblance of a road. Oh, beautiful, beautiful sight! Her companion ran the car on to it and stopped. He leaned out of the window and saw his horse trotting up to them, then turned back to her.

Joanna knew the hour of reckoning was upon her. And she — who had told herself so short a time ago that she was never, never going to be afraid of anything or anyone again, was so terrified she couldn’t utter a word. ‘You little fool!’ he said. ‘You utterly crazy irresponsible stupid little fool! Nobody crosses that river except in a special four-wheel drive truck — an army truck — designed for these conditions and manned by someone who knows these river-beds, knows every stream, can read every sign of approaching change. Knows that on a day like this the snow is melting fast — and we’re close to the big stuff. Don’t you realize that if, by chance, I’d not been out on Jason and saw that blasted car, you’d be floating down the Waimihi right now! It’s claimed more than one life, believe me!’ Joanna shuddered involuntarily. The Waimihi... the River of Regret. Her inability to answer seemed to infuriate him still more. He added: ‘Hell and damnation, girl, it might have cost two lives... yours and mine... and left three small children alone in this wilderness... imagine that, and one of them only a baby! Not another living person for fifteen miles, and even they are up the Awatipua Valley and probably cut off from the homestead now too. Why the devil anyone should want to come over here I can’t even begin to imagine. It looks as if I’ll have to put a notice up: “Private Property. Beware of the Quicksands!”’

At that Joanna managed a word, but her mouth was so dry she couldn’t swallow and it came out cracked. ‘Quicksands?’ she croaked, and shuddered again. The man put a hand on her shoulder. ‘An English voice,’ he said. ‘So you’re English and a complete greenhorn. And you’re suffering from shock and I’m bawling you out. But you scared seven bells out of me, you know, so I let fly. But if you’re English, I suppose I’ll have to make allowances.’ And suddenly Joanna couldn’t stand that magnanimity, the implied slur that if you were English you were likely to be as dim as Bertie Wooster! Saliva came flowing back into her mouth. She was able to swallow and to speak. ‘Good grief!’ she cried, ‘I thought New Zealand was the cradle of democracy... no prejudices... live and let live, all the rest. You’re being all high-minded and forgiving because I’m English. As if I were a Martian or something from outer space! Being a Colonial doesn’t mean you can act as if you knew the answer to every question and had the right to bawl the lesser intellects out!’ There was a moment’s horrible silence when Joanna realized she must indeed be suffering from shock... this man had just saved her life and she was talking to him like this! She clapped her hands over her mouth and said through her fingers in tones of anguish, ‘Oh, dear, what am I saying? You have every right to tell me off.

You’ve just saved my life at the risk of your own, and a very much more important life, too, than mine, at that. Nobody depends upon me, but you’re a father!’ To her utmost astonishment he burst out laughing in the most helpless fashion, bowing his head on his hands on the wheel. Joanna gazed at him in amazement and was horrified to feel temper rising within her again. Oh dear, whatever had come over her? She mustn’t, mustn’t let fly again. He sobered up with a noticeable effort and said, gaspingly, ‘Look, I’m sorry too. Perhaps we’re both suffering shock. Mine was probably prolonged. I was scared stiff I wouldn’t reach you when I first saw you. I couldn’t see how deep it was from there. Many years ago a horse and dray disappeared in quicksands not far from here, after a flood. And believe me, I’m not agin the English. Heavens, no. I’m only a half-pi Kiwi myself. My father is an Englishman. I was born here, though — he married my mother after he emigrated. And I’m sorry if, in a rush of relief that we were both alive, I put your craziness down to being a new chum and offended your national pride.’ Joanna said, in a very small voice, ‘I didn’t know I had any. It sort of surged to the top.’ He grinned. ‘It always does with redheads. I know. My brother has red hair.’

Joanna could have told him differently. Perhaps it was a revolt against all those years of repression when she had lived in Maria’s household, knowing she was there on sufferance; that she had been taken as a plaything, first of all, and disappointing her benefactress time after time in the stage ability Maria had wanted to display in her protégée. Suddenly she was at a loss for words again. She just didn’t know where to go from here. He saved her the trouble of finding them. ‘Oh, and I’d better tell you I’m not a father. Just an uncle or some such thing. They’re my cousin’s children. She’s been up here for a year because of a shadow on her lung. It’s a long story — I won’t bother with it now — but finally they’ve decided that what showed up was an old injury — something that had happened when she was a child. She’s in Timaru Hospital having an operation to put it right.’ ‘And where’s her husband? Oh, is he in Timaru too?’ ‘No.’ His expression was somewhat grim. ‘Marguerite has been a brick. Her husband was a lecturer at one of our varsities and got the chance of a year or so at an American college — something that would vastly further his career. They discovered this shadow when Marguerite was having her check-up, so of course she wasn’t allowed to go. Lance wanted to turn it in, but she wouldn’t let him. Said she’d come up here to keep house for me and my men. Best place in the world for anyone with a weak chest — only it wasn’t that, in any case. She engaged a most competent woman used to life on sheep-stations to

look after the kids, and I’m not to let Lance know till it’s all over. He’s sitting exams. ‘Fine so far, but yesterday Mrs. Ashdowne’s brother in Auckland died and she’s gone up to the funeral. I reckoned I could manage till she gets back and haven’t let on to Marguerite. The operation was this morning and she’s safely through. Brownie — Mrs. Ashdowne — should be back by the end of the week. I couldn’t let the kids go to strangers — my own folks are too far away — Dad’s a bank manager in Whangarei in the Far North, and the kids are used to me now.’ Joanna put a hand to her head, swallowed again and said faintly: ‘And I — I put your life in jeopardy — and the children are alone in all this—’ she waved her hand — ‘and if you’d been drowned—’ Words failed her again. He nodded. ‘Yep. That’s why I was so mad I blew my top. But never mind. It didn’t happen. Don’t let’s harrow ourselves over what might have been. Though having you here couldn’t have happened at a worse time’ His expression was certainly scowling now. In fact for a fair man, he looked positively forbidding. Joanna didn’t want to put another foot wrong, so she didn’t bridle. She said meekly, ‘Well, won’t I be able to help?’

He said, ‘It’s not that. The trouble is you’ll have to stay the night. In fact I think there’s so much snow melted with this unexpected heat that you’ll probably have to stay longer than overnight.’ Joanna took it coolly. ‘Well, even so, it’s not a tragedy, is it? I mean—’ He said impatiently, ‘You’ll have to stay under my roof and there’s nobody else there, bar the kids.’ Joanna felt amazed. New Zealanders were usually so casual, and in circumstances like this conventions just had to go by the board. She said so. He snorted. ‘I’m not thinking of you. I’m thinking of myself. And the effect this will have on someone who hates — well, hates any breath of scandal. Well, not scandal exactly, but any hint of irregularity.’ Joanna’s eyes widened. ‘Well, she — I suppose it’s a she? — will just have to put up with it. She must be extremely narrow-minded. Do you have to care about anyone’s opinion — I mean anyone like that? When we just can’t help it...’ He said slowly, ‘I happen to think a great deal of her. She has very good reason to hate — er — irregularity, and to be quite frank, I’d rather you hadn’t happened to me.’

Joanna said stiffly, ‘Well, I’m extremely sorry that my thoughtless action in venturing across the river-bed to take photographs has caused you such bother, but I can’t undo it, and I can’t see what any woman could look askance at you for something forced upon you. You can just explain that some witless English girl ventured across, got caught in a sudden flood and had to be put up for a couple of nights. That you cordially disliked her and were glad to see the back of her — and this woman can accept it or not. I can’t do any more. Meanwhile—’ ‘Meanwhile,’ said her reluctant deliverer, ‘we must get back to the homestead. Philippa is only ten, though very capable, and I told her I’d only be half an hour. I had some ewes in trouble — fortunately for you — on this river-bank. And the sun will be right down in a moment. You’d better tell me about yourself as we go... your name, and who will be frantic about you when you don’t turn up, so we can ring them to tell them you’re marooned on a high country sheep-station with an irate station-owner. I don’t want a search for you and the resultant publicity. My name’s Matthew Greenwood, by the way. What’s yours?’ ‘I’m Joanna Marlow, and there isn’t anyone you need to let know.’ ‘Nobody?’ His voice was incredulous. Then, ‘Oh, are you on a working holiday here and you mean nobody in New Zealand will worry about you for a day or two?’

‘Well, that’s near enough. I’m secretary to a woman who is out here on a business trip and she’s gone to Christchurch friends for three weeks. I thought I’d hire a car and explore this country round here. We were staying at the Hermitage and I fell in love with the mountains. My employer doesn’t expect to hear from me till I join her in Christchurch or Wellington before leaving New Zealand.’ His voice was withering. ‘You fell in love with the mountains! There’s considerably more to it than that. You want to learn to treat mountains with respect, not to wander about in terrain that’s dangerous enough to men who have lived here all their lives. This high-country farming demands men who are not only strong and tough, but also wise. It’s hazardous country, even for just travelling about in, and must be recognized as such and not trifled with. Such as crossing a river-bed merely to take photographs of a romanticlooking homestead that doesn’t mean a thing to you, that you’ll never see again when I get you — and your car — safely back over the Waimihi again.’ Joanna felt she’d never want to see it again — it was murderous country all right, vast and cruel and terrifying. No point in telling him about Uncle Henry. They’d jeer at Uncle Henry, too. Personally, she thought Uncle Henry had been lucky to escape. She’d be here a night or two, unwelcome and conscious of it. The river would subside, this man would drive her car over for her, getting one of his men to follow in his army truck, she would utter stiff thanks

and be very glad to put the miles between her and this embarrassing incident and this scowling stranger. Meanwhile she’d make as little trouble as possible. The shadows were lengthening incredibly quickly now as they drove on towards the homestead, Jason trotting behind them. It was probably very beautiful, the sort of sunset Joanna might never see again, but her personal problems blotted it out. She knew vaguely that there were violet and rose glints on the eternal snows ahead and above them, that the whole sky above the jagged peaks was green- streaked and splotched with crimson and gold and fire; that the shadows of the pines on the homestead hill were purple and that some kind of birds were crying in a desolate sort of keening. The trees about the house spread out in a great fan, carefully designed, to give not only shelter, but a maximum amount of light and sunshine. Someone had lovingly planted a garden... odd that Uncle Henry hadn’t mentioned a garden, but then he’d not had much time, had he? — and in any case, this might not have had a garden then as a bachelor establishment. There was no colour in the garden on the slopes that led up to the ridge on which the homestead sat, apart from the sulphury limes and yellows of alpine shrubs and plants Joanna could not name, but it had a certain charm of bareness and design, and they must have used the natural formation of the rocks as a basic pattern. The result was very pleasing, even in this last, hard month of winter.

Matthew Greenwood swung the car round a shoulder of the ridge westward of the homestead, away from the riverbed, and ran it into a huge stablecum-garage there. He waved his hand towards an army vehicle and said, ‘That’s what you need for crossings — plus about ten years’ experience.’ Joanna said nothing. The house was long and low, apart from its high-pitched roof, and had a long side wing sticking out. From a door at the end two children suddenly appeared, the taller one with a heavy baby in her arms. Their eyes were round with astonishment. For the first time Matthew Greenwood appeared hesitant. Then he laughed lightly. ‘Surprise, surprise, kids. Not often we have folk dropping in, is it? This is Miss Joanna Marlowe, from England. She liked the look of our house and didn’t know how quickly the river could rise. She got over half the streams quite easily, took photos and had a picnic, and couldn’t get back because the snow’s thawing. So I brought her over here.’ ‘Holy mackerel!’ said a freckled urchin of about eight, with a turned-up nose and a wide, engaging grin. ‘I guess she ought to take a ticket in Tatt’s if she’s that lucky.’ He looked at Joanna and said with relish, ‘There are frightful potholes in those streams and quicksands that could swallow a railway train in a jiffy, and not as much as a luggage-rack would ever be seen again, or you

could get swept clean into the lake. It’s bottomless and no one will ever know what it’s swallowed up, besides—’ ‘That’ll do, Toby. Philippa, Miss Marlowe is going to stay the night. Here, give Michael to me, he’s far too heavy for you.’ He swung Michael up into his arms. ‘Odd, isn’t it? Lance and Marguerite had two such skinny children at first — they both walked before they were twelve months — demons they were, always into mischief, and here’s Michael eighteen months and still crawling. Just as well, probably, he’s very heavy.’ Michael looked like everyone’s ideal of a well-fed baby and was almost laughingly like his uncle or cousin-twice- removed or whatever he was. Philippa was a tawny child, with a pony-tail and an air of great selfpossession. Perhaps living up here taught even small children self-reliance. Suddenly Joanna felt nervous. She wished fervently and desperately that the next few days might pass quickly. She said to herself, as she had so often said before some of the parties she so dreaded, ‘Time passes... it’s in the habit of doing so... you’ll wake up soon and it will be all over.’ This philosophy had taken her through many boring, detested functions with such success no one had ever guessed how she had hated them. She had even gained a reputation for serenity. Philippa eyed Matthew Greenwood’s trousers and said, ‘You’re soaked! Was it dangerous?’ Her eyes went accusingly to Joanna.

Matthew shook his head. Evidently he didn’t want the children to know how bad it had been. It might scare them into realizing they might have been left alone in these mountain vastnesses. He said, ‘Oh, I’m wet because Jason plunged around a bit. Just splashed me. Miss Marlowe got the car out herself. I just shouted instructions to her. She had the sense to keep the revs going till I got there. Just as well. It’s a rental car from Fairlie.’ ‘Crumbs!’ said Toby. ‘Wouldn’t you have been popular with the firm if you’d let their car founder in the river! A chap lost his car once, over at Dragonshill. Served him right. Sneaked in for a bit of fishing. They got him and his cobber out all right, but the car was never salvaged. Nossir! Complete write-off!’ ‘Never known a child enjoy other people’s misfortunes as our Toby!’ said his cousin. ‘Inside with you all. I want to change and we all want to eat. Philippa, you can show Miss Marlowe to a spare-room. The Blue Room, I think. And she can have a rest while we cook tea. Tomorrow she can take over the cooking. I find it too time-consuming by far.’ Take over the cooking! And she’d never as much as been allowed to whisk an egg in Maria’s housekeeper’s kitchen. This certainly was a nightmare, but not one you could wake up from. Joanna shrank from the thought of the scorn she’d meet in this man’s eyes when he found that out. As find out he would!

The house was surprisingly warm — centrally heated, she found, so that most of the time the doors stood open. Philippa, with Toby in close attendance, took her through the working kitchen, a room filled with the most terrifyingly efficient-looking gadgets and machines, through another that was obviously used for meals, and along a thickly carpeted hall to a small passage at the end. ‘This is the guest-wing,’ said Philippa importantly. ‘Matthew entertains a lot. The Blue Room’s the single room. It’s got a bathroom next door, but you have to come into the passage to get to it.’ She opened the door on to a room that was so charming Joanna couldn’t believe it was in a bachelor’s establishment. Its windows faced north and east, so that meant, in this Southern Hemisphere, that it would get the sun all day — that is, when there was sun! She imagined there would be plenty of sunless days in this region. It must have been done by an interior decorator. It was a subtle blend of many shades of blue, with the plain carpet a deep-sea blue, and the walls a delicate egg-shell. The bed was a Queen Anne style, in rosewood, and each side of the long white terylene curtains that billowed gently in the mountain breeze, were hangings in a beautiful design of shadow stripes and summer garlands, in a softly blurred pattern. Joanna’s delight and surprise was replaced by a sudden dismay. Much better if this had been a typical bachelor set-up, crude and untidy and dusty. Because

in that sort of ménage, you couldn’t put a foot wrong, you could only improve it. This room, at the back of beyond, was as elegant as any room in Maria’s beautiful residence at Osterley, or her up-to-date flat in Chelsea. If the rest of the house was as orderly as this, any bungling housekeeping Joanna attempted would be obviously amateur and extremely laughable. Philippa was opening drawers. ‘This top one has towels and soap in... Mummy keeps them handy like that. And there’s plenty of room for your clothes and things. Did your case get wet at all? If anything’s damp, just hang it over the hot pipes. The bed’s aired — it’s an electrically heated mattress.’ ‘Goodness,’ said Joanna, trying to sound natural, like an ordinary guest, ‘this is the lap of luxury, isn’t it? As good as the Hermitage any day.’ Philippa said, ‘It wasn’t always. Before the electricity got through here, there was only a generator. It was always going wrong, I believe. And they had to have fires every night in every bedroom that was in use. They had a kerosene fridge to save power and nothing but fuel stoves and they had to make their own bread because they had no deep freeze. It was worse further back again, of course. No power plant at all and stores only once a year. It all came in with wagons and drays then.’ Joanna gazed at her in horror. No doubt Uncle Henry would have told her all this — had he had time. ‘Once a year? Oh, surely not! I mean, could anyone make out a grocery bill for twelve months?’ They must be having her on.

Toby gave a delighted but derisive snort. ‘Suffering catfish! You really are green, aren’t you? Of course they only got stores once a year. In those days that road wasn’t like it is now... it was im-impassable in winter for four months at a time. We got stores in by back-loading.’ Then he added in answer to Joanna’s mystified look, ‘When the wool-wagons came in to get our wool bales, they brought in a year’s food on the empties. If we ran out of things, we had to do without.’ Philippa looked at him with sisterly scorn. ‘You’re showing off. You weren’t here then. Even I wasn’t.’ Toby went red under his freckles. ‘My family was, so I can so say it. The people I am ascended from! See!’ Philippa’s tone was withering. ‘You mean descended, goat! And it’s only what you’ve been told.’ ‘It is not. I’ve had far more experience up here than you have, see! Two years ago, when I was quite small, I was here for the May holidays and we had that early snow and got cut off. Gee, it was beaut. I was here six weeks. We had everything. Snow, then a freeze-up. Then when the thaw came the road was like a porridge-pot — much worse than it is just now. Then we had floods, and lots of adventures.’

‘Oh, pooh,’ said Philippa loftily, tossing back her ponytail with a scornfully dismissing gesture. ‘Now, if you’d like a wash, Miss Marlow, I’ll go and help Matthew with the tea. Come on, Toby, you can’t stay here.’ ‘Boss-cat!’ said Toby, with a horrible grimace, turning to follow her, ‘and anyway, I’m going to call her Joanna.’ He gave Joanna a wide grin, a grin that was uneven because all his new teeth hadn’t yet grown in. Then he added, ‘Look out, Phil, I can hear Michael coming.’ Philippa stepped aside hastily to avoid treading on the baby’s hands as he came in the doorway. The sound of his coming had been a chuckling and wheezing that invariably accompanied Michael’s crawling, Joanna found out. She said quickly, ‘Philippa, leave him here. I expect he’s a nuisance in the kitchen. I’ll look after him.’ ‘Can you?’ Philippa’s tone was extremely damaging to the ego. ‘Yes, I can,’ promised Joanna rashly. ‘I love babies.’ True enough, except that she’d never had anything to do with them at close quarters. But Michael looked angelic and sunny-tempered. He was the latter, all right, but very curious. While Joanna unpacked and washed, he managed to open all the lower drawers, drag out her things as fast as she stuffed them in, stand up and pull at the lace covers on the dressing-table so that a tortoiseshell brush and mirror and a crystal powder-

bowl crashed to the ground, and then to leave a puddle squarely in the middle of the carpet! Joanna was terrifically relieved to find nothing broken. There must be spongerubber under this thick-piled carpet. She replaced them right back against the mirror, where the little starfish hands could not reach them. She found a bath-cloth in the bathroom and mopped up the puddle, and wondered uneasily if she’d have to change the baby. And to think she’d been scathing — in her thoughts — about Maria and babies! Well, she’d give it a go. She went quickly along to the kitchen and said, ‘Would you like to give me a nappy? Michael needs changing.’ Matthew swung round quickly from what Joanna later learned was a diesel fuel stove where he seemed to be making a mixed grill, and said: ‘Okay. You can manage that, can you? Good show. Here—’ and he opened a cylinder cupboard next to the stove and drew out a couple of napkins. ‘Put two on, they’re getting a bit thin.’ Joanna felt not quite such a nuisance as she went quickly back to her room, hoping Michael had not upset anything else. He was standing by the bed now, steadying himself, and had fired the pillows off, and was tugging at the lacy spread that covered a blue taffeta quilt, warmly padded. Well, she didn’t think there was much to changing a baby, anyway. From the pictures in magazines, you simply folded them into a triangle, and pinned

them. She got it folded all right, then had to induce this squirming baby to stay still long enough for her to get his long overalls off. Then she gazed in dismay. These nappies were not in triangles. They were folded like little pants, and fastened at two sides with pins. Oh dear. Well, she’d spread these wet ones out and study them like a chart. Easy enough. How was she to know that Michael’s aimlessly straying hand would twitch one corner out of her hand and fling the nappies in a loose heap on the floor? Joanna heaved a prodigious sigh and said, ‘All right, young man, you’ll have to have them on the good old-fashioned way.’ She was so scared he’d fall off the bed, she put him on the floor. Who ever would dream that such a placid-looking baby could suddenly turn into an eel? She felt like putting her knee on him to hold him down. She said firmly: ‘Now, stay still, for heaven’s sake, or I’ll stick this pin in you for sure!’ That pin! She was sure these nappies were reinforced with pin-resistant compound! Some maternal instinct made her put her own fingers between the baby and the pin, and when it suddenly pierced the folds of cloth, she got stabbed. Still, that was better by far than doing it to the baby and having to face an inquiry from the lordly and maddeningly efficient master of Heronscrag. She dabbed at the blood she’d drawn, managed to re-garb Michael in the

overalls, tucked him under her arm, and set sail for the kitchen somewhat pleased with herself. A savoury smell met her. She realized she was starving. Breakfast was nine hours away and she’d had only sandwiches since. If it hadn’t been that tomorrow and its cooking hung over her spirits like a black pall, Joanna could, in that moment, have felt an aesthetic pleasure in the scene before her, so different from any she had ever known... a kitchen ought to be like this, the pivot of the home. A place where children could come rushing in from school, savouring the odours of the cooking dinner, standing wiggling their bare toes in a rag mat like that one, before dressing in the mornings, putting their snow-sodden shoes on the rack above the bright red enamel range. How did she know such things? Was there some dim memory stirring of the mother she couldn’t quite remember? If her mother had been housekeeper to Maria, presumably at first her little girl’s place must have been the kitchen. Her reluctant host turned round and said to her surprise, ‘Oh, you’ve changed him. Good show. If there’s one thing makes me madder than anything, it’s to have to change Michael in the middle of getting a meal.’ Joanna knew an immediate lightening of tension. Perhaps she wouldn’t show up so badly after all. Matthew Greenwood said, ‘Pop him in his high-chair, will you?’

Joanna gazed round, then said, doubtfully, ‘Do you mean this? But you could hardly call that high?’ They all burst out laughing, including Michael, who always laughed when the others did, but one second later. Matthew said: ‘I know... darned stupid, isn’t it, but it sounds funny to say “put the baby in his low-chair”, don’t you think? High-chairs are too dangerous by far and are never used in our family.’ Joanna nodded as if she knew all about such things. ‘Yes, children can come such a crash if they tip over.’ Matthew was ladling out all sorts of things on to four plates on a bench near the stove with a deftness that made Joanna realize he’d probably be very impatient with an amateur cook and he said, ‘Oh, Michael’s not at that stage yet. It’s when they start standing that that happens. Still—’ ‘But he is standing,’ interrupted Joanna. ‘He stood up and tipped all the things off my dressing-table, and then he hauled himself up by that lace bedspread and walked right round one side of the bed — holding on, of course.’ Immediately the whole family was as enraptured as if they had just discovered an Olympic champion in their midst. Even the high and mighty Cousin Matthew dropped his egg-slice and came across with Philippa and Toby to gaze at Michael, who seized his spoon, banged it on the tray of his chair, and shouted: ‘Num-num? Num-num?’ which presumably was a request for food.

His brother and sister regarded him with rapt adoration. It reminded Joanna of something. What? Oh, yes, children in a Christmas pageant, gazing at the manger. Oh, how lovely family life was! She felt this little scene would be imprinted on her memory for ever, with a cameo-like sharp clarity. Something to remember when her old, artificial life claimed her again. Matthew said, ‘I’ll ring the hospital tonight and tell them to tell his mother. It’ll buck her up no end. I say, Miss Marlowe, can you eat two or three sausages?’ Joanna eyed a huge old-fashioned blue-and-white dinner plate and decided that even if she were ravenous she’d never get through that — a chop, two rashers of bacon, an egg, tomatoes — and said faintly, ‘I don’t think I’ll have a sausage at all. I—’ ‘Oh, rubbish! The mountains will perk up your appetite,’ and he transferred two sausages to the pile. As they sat down and Toby gabbled: ‘Thank You for the food we eat, thank You for the flowers so sweet, thank You for the birds that sing, thank You, God, for everything,’ she had to blink her eyes to make sure it was all real. She felt much better for the food, even if she couldn’t manage quite all. Michael had a dish of scrambled egg which Philippa had made, and some sieved apple with milk. ‘I thought we’d play safe for the next few days,’ said Matthew Greenwood, ‘and just give him what he likes. I just haven’t the time to spoon stuff he

doesn’t like into him.’ Joanna decided privately that that could probably be her job. She didn’t think there’d be anything in it. The children washed up, not amicably, and not willingly, but still they did it. Matthew stood no nonsense from them. His word, apparently, was law. A king of the castle type. Joanna had offered to do them — she was sure she could manage that — but had been turned down. ‘Marguerite gave them a roster of the duties they must help Brownie with before she went down. They’re definitely responsible for the evening dishes. The breakfast dishes and the midday dinner dishes are all put into the dishwasher and done at one o’clock before they go back into the schoolroom, but at night we just use the sink.’ ‘Schoolroom? Do you mean they have a governess? Where is—’ ‘Marguerite had to manage that too. We had a governess the first half of the year, but she found it too lonely. By that time my cousin was much better and she was used to the routine and we managed. They’re on correspondence school, of course, and the radio sessions help. I’ll do my best with them for the next week, and then, praise the saints, the school holidays start and by the time the next term is on us, their mother will be here. She arranged this hospital trip to coincide as far as possible with cessation of lessons.’ Joanna sat silent. Their calm acceptance of an almost impossible situation emphasized her own inadequacy. And the utter dependence of these children

upon their guardian made her realize more and more that she, with her effrontery and foolishness, had put all their lives in jeopardy. By now Matthew Greenwood had told her that his three shepherds were away up the other river valley — the more sheltered one — seeing to the sheep there and spending two or three nights in the huts built there for just such occasions. ‘Hope this fresh in the river doesn’t last — though they have plenty of food — but in the circumstances, I’d prefer them to be here.’ Of course. He didn’t want to be compromised. Strange attitude in a man so confident, so much a law unto himself. This woman who was so strait-laced must mean a great deal to him. Perhaps they were not quite engaged and he wanted nothing to cause a rift in the lute. There’d be some story behind it. Joanna hoped desperately that the river might fall as quickly as it had risen — or if not, that the streams in the other valley might not be impassable, allowing the men to return quickly to the homestead. Then perhaps this girl might never need to know that Joanna had spent a night under Matthew Greenwood’s roof, with no one save the children there. Matthew bathed Michael, with assistance from Philippa, turning down a timid offer from Joanna. ‘I’m playing safe. You could probably do it better than I, but I’m scared stiff he misses his mother and cries for her. I reckon I can manage this outfit as long as I get my sleep. He might sense you were strange. Philippa could bath him herself, but he’s like an eel in the bath and I don’t want him swallowing vast quantities of water and perhaps getting a scare. So

I’ll turn that offer down.’ Which was just as well, Joanna knew. She envied the master of Heronscrag, his unembarrassed air. Some men would have felt all this beneath them, she was sure. But he was completely unconscious, seemingly, of any incongruity in a bachelor heating up a baby’s bottle, testing it on his hand, and sitting down on the kitchen couch with the baby, who was wedged with cushions, till he should finish the milk. Then he and Philippa took the baby to his cot in a room next to hers, and tucked him down. Michael roared lustily in protest for long enough, but by the time the other two were ready for bed, he’d fallen asleep, with his little striped seat hunched up in the air, blankets tossed off and the pillow flung to the other side of the room. They all tiptoed in. Matthew grinned, but heaved a sigh of relief. He whispered, ‘He hardly ever wakes once he’s off.’ He picked up the chaff pillow, put it under Michael’s head, pulled the blankets over him, and motioned them all out. The children had been in bed an hour or more when Philippa suddenly reappeared. ‘Matt, my mother will get better, won’t she?’ Her little face was white and tense, all her air of self-possession gone. Matthew had been working at some books on the kitchen table, Joanna leafing over some magazines she’d found, in an easy chair by the stove. Matthew took his pipe out of his mouth and said, ‘Of course, chump! Look, if

it was anything serious, you can bet your boots I’d have got your daddy back from America. After all, he could have flown here in a couple of days or so. Now don’t get such darned stupid ideas into your silly little noddle. Remember when you had your tonsils out? Well, it’s just like that, goat. Now hop back to bed and not another peep out of you. I’ll be thirsting for your blood if you wake that baby up. I’ve got more than enough on my plate without you fussing around when you ought to be in bed. Now scram!’ Philippa scrammed. Joanna bit her lip. Wouldn’t he have been wiser to have taken her on his knee, shown her a little tenderness and reassurance? Matthew Greenwood caught the look and interpreted it aright. He spoke quite gently. ‘Miss Marlowe, I’m not being short-tempered and unsympathetic, believe me. I had a reason. I’ve got a very vivid memory of my own childhood. My father was very ill for quite a time. We kids knew Mum thought he was going to die. She and my aunts were so unnaturally patient with us. Mustn’t upset these poor wee things, so soon to be fatherless sort of style. Kids are mighty astute. We lived in a gentle, unrestrained sort of nightmare.’ ‘Then one day when Ken and Sally and I had got up to some bit of mischief, Aunty Kathy suddenly lost her temper and walloped us. Walloped us good and hard. When she’d gone back inside — we were in the shrubbery — we all turned cartwheels out of sheer joy. We knew Father must be getting better. That’s why I was short with Philippa. I bet she drops straight off to sleep. Her

little world isn’t too changed, as it would seem if I fussed over her or let her stay up.’ Joanna looked at him with great respect and said, ‘I’m sorry. I misjudged you. I think I’ll go to bed and read. Would that be all right with you?’ He nodded. ‘I expect you’re worn out after your scare. Oh, just a minute. I’d better give you this.’ He went to the mantelpiece and took something down. ‘Had a job to find it. I knew there was one. Doubt if it’s ever been used before. Here you are.’ He put something into her hand and said, ‘It’s the key to your bedroom door.’ Joanna’s colour rose and she hated the knowledge that it did. She said stiffly: ‘Really, Mr. Greenwood, I’m not as stupid as all that! It’s not a bit necessary.’ ‘I’d prefer you to have it. Put in on the inside of the lock and leave it there — whether you turn it or not. I shan’t be offended if you do in any case. Think if I were a girl in like circumstances I probably would. But my real reason is that though I’m certainly not expecting Christine to pay us a visit, and I reckon I’ll have you back across the river the moment it goes down... well, if she did arrive before I get you away, I’d like that key there.’ Joanna said through her teeth, ‘Very well, Mr. Greenwood. Whatever you say goes. I’m very sorry I caused all this hoo-ha through my sheer thoughtlessness, but if this Christine does arrive before I get away, I’m quite sure we can make

it plain to her that this was sheer necessity and that you regard me as nothing more than an intolerable nuisance — good night!’ He stood up again and would have said something, but she was gone. She banged the door behind her and didn’t care one scrap if it had wakened Michael! So there! She didn’t sleep in spite of the key in the door.

CHAPTER THREE AT two o’clock Joanna decided she’d have to do something about what was keeping her awake. To wit, this bogey of doing the cooking! She supposed that Matthew Greenwood would get up, go outside to do the chores and come back expecting breakfast. She had seen enough of New Zealand homes during their six weeks’ stay to realize that the women of even the most opulent of them could cope with all or most of the housework. Help was terrifically scarce and even the big estates up-lake on Wakatipu, where they had been invited, had admitted that the most they could hope for were varsity students during the vacations. Yet they took it all very lightly and seemed to work hard, play hard, and make use of all the labour-saving devices possible. Joanna felt she was going to let England down if Matthew Greenwood found she couldn’t cook. Very hard to explain that her upbringing hadn’t been typical... that most English girls of her age were quite domesticated; that she had been brought up at the whim of a temperamental actress and treated like a doll. It had had its funny side, she supposed... the dancing classes, the singing classes, the spoken voice training, the drama tuition, things that other girls might have revelled in. Poor Maria... it had been just like winding up a mechanical doll, only to find it wouldn’t work. Joanna had known she had

been a disappointment and had gone gladly and eagerly into secretarial training, something for which she had both aptitude and liking. Looking back on that teenage Joanna, this Joanna knew pity. She had tried so hard, overjoyed to find something that would make Maria praise her. She had so longed to be loved, not to be a disappointment any more, to the woman who had kept her in her home. She knew now that her longing to be loved had made her more nervous than she had needed to be, had made her stiff and clumsy. Had made her less fluent in speech, that even in the singing lessons, her throat had dried and her voice had lacked power because she had been terrified of disappointing Maria in still one more thing. Her sweetest triumph had been when they had discovered she had a real flair for languages. She’d mastered French, German, Italian, and now that Maria was becoming so fond of holidays in Spain, Joanna was going to start lessons in that language too. But it had made very little difference. Maria had used these gifts, but was still vocal and belittling about the chances Joanna had missed. Now she got up, switched her light on, slipped her feet into apricot quilted satin mules, fluffy with swansdown, buttoned herself into a matching housegown, gave a few hasty dabs at her hair with a brush, and, opening the door very quietly, stole along to the kitchen.

When Philippa had been stacking the dishes away, there had been a pile of notebooks at the back of the cupboard... they could easily be recipe-books, and if they were, as she so fervently hoped, they might contain something more practical than those stupid magazines she had taken to bed in the desperate hope they might tell her how to make porridge (she was sure the master of Heronscrag ate a lot of porridge, he had that sort of look) and how to fry eggs and bacon as expertly as he had done that mixed grill last night. She would probably be here only a very short time, but suddenly she knew she did not want to stay for ever in his mind as a dill of a girl who not only nearly drowned herself but who couldn’t as much as poach an egg or make a pot of soup! Every one of those magazines had contained luscious and beautifully illustrated recipes, but who wanted caramel pies or pavlova cakes compounded of meringue and cream and fruit salad? Or stuffed beef rolls served with grilled mushrooms and barbecue sauce! Really, those recipes... lemon chiffon pie, salmon croquettes and angels on horseback! Oh, for simplicity and a basic recipe book! The kitchen was cosy and the bright glow from the range that never went out because it was a drip-feed made her feel better and finding the pile of notebooks was what she had thought, better still. But their contents were no more helpful than the magazines had been! These recipes, some of them clippings, had been culled through generations and were all fancy. She

gloomily supposed that they had all done plain cooking from their early schooldays, having enjoyed that matchless blessing, a mother in the kitchen, a mother to watch, a mother who would let you experiment. Nevertheless, she wasn’t going to give up easily. She’d go through every single one in the hope that somewhere, some time, someone had been a greenhorn like herself and had scribbled down how to make porridge. What a job for the early hours of the morning! She supposed these foods could be delicious met up with at a party, they sounded ridiculously cloying... walnut and chocolate cream whip... fondant filling for stuffed dates... upsidedown cake with pineapple topping ... good heavens, who’d want a cake upside down? — pound cake, good gracious, must be a mistake there... it said sixteen eggs! Penny Smith’s blowaway sponge... how high-falutin’ could cooks get? Madame Beaudonais-Smith’s cherry trifle... could they mean sherry trifle, oh no, it said stone your cherries first... passion-fruit layer cake, chicken mould... casserole of venison... ah, were the recipes getting a little plainer? Yes, they were, and older too. Well-used, old-fashioned recipes, with some pages grease-splashed. Had any of these cooks sweated over failures and burnt offerings as she was sure she was going to do? Leek dumplings... Yorkshire pudding... puff pastry... All of a sudden Joanna started to laugh... well, perhaps she could serve them leek dumplings and Yorkshire pudding for breakfast and tell them it was an unfailing custom in Osterley? The laugh did her good.

She came to the last book. It looked very old. Probably went back to the days of ratafia cakes and how to brew rhubarb wine like some of those period books she was so fond of! She opened it... oh, just an account book, scribbled in faded ink. Her eye went to the name on the inside cover and it leapt up at her, ‘Henry Worthing Dean, Heronscrag.’ Warmth flooded her heart. Great-Uncle Henry, the only relative she had ever known, even if that was just for a few weeks. Recipes forgotten, she flicked over the pages. Even to her inexperienced eyes, the prices for his produce seemed pitiful. Depression days. He had long lists of huge quantities of groceries jotted down. The yearly order, of course, that came in when the wagons took out his wool. Sacks of sugar, flour, oatmeal... tapioca, rice, sago, a huge amount of golden syrup, an order for a dozen tins of jam, and beside it a pitiful entry: ‘Cheapest possible, please.’ She guessed the syrup was cheaper and that he used it on his bread. There was certainly no fancy merchandise here. No tinned meats or fruits. No supermarket touch. The bare necessities of life. Of course they would kill their own mutton and lamb; make their own butter and cheese; grow potatoes and vegetables when and if weather permitted. She really didn’t know enough about this area to surmise. But it must have been a monotonous diet.

However, this didn’t help her about the porridge. Probably even Uncle Henry knew how to make that. She turned a few more pages and her eye chanced upon an entry in what she was sure was a woman’s hand. A list. Someone must have written this out for Henry. All green veg. approx. twenty minutes, put in boiling water. New potatoes ditto, old ones same time but in cold water. Roast veg. put them into the boiling fat round the roast an hour before serving. Make sure the fat quickly returns to boil again. When you re-heat cold meat, just bring gently to heat required, for very short time, or it will toughen. Time for roasting meat, either boiling or roasting — approx. twenty mins. per pound and twenty over. Joanna had no idea what the twenty mins. over was for, or meant, but the rest of the instructions could be the saving of her, except for that wretched porridge! However, that was all there was. Now she’d put the books back, close the cupboard door quietly, and sneak back to bed. Would Philippa know how to cook porridge? Could Joanna get away with it by saying casually: ‘How about you cooking the porridge, Philippa, while I do the bacon and eggs?’ She was sure Matthew Greenwood had been turning that mixed grill over in sizzling

fat. She’d give it a try. A loose page out of one of the notebooks fluttered out. It said: ‘Anzac Biscuits (Mrs. Featherstone’s), but I still prefer the one on the Silver Oatie packet.’ Oatie packet! A packet with recipes on the front. Yes, of course! She sprang up and the books fell to the ground off her lap, unheeded. Then she stopped, all eagerness quenched, the thought of Uncle Henry’s huge lists coming to taunt her. Sacks of oatmeal! You couldn’t print recipes on sacks. And even though stocking up with provisions was no longer a once-a-year job, according to the children, they’d never buy that stuff in small quantities. So she went more slowly to the kitchen, and opened a cupboard. The first two doors revealed only dishes and jars of home-made jams, but the third door, that beautiful, beautiful third door, contained packets and packets of all sorts of different cereals. Why, there was even a chance that they preferred cornflakes with milk and sugar. Nevertheless... Joanna ran her finger over the row, and with great triumph, drew out a Silver Oatie packet and almost ran back to the kitchen with it. She sank down in the big chair again. She’d commit this recipe to memory so that she could set about it in the morning with the greatest aplomb! At that moment the far door opposite her was pushed open and a pyjamaclad and dressing-gowned figure appeared and said in low but intense tones

— presumably in case the baby woke — ‘What in thunder do you think you’re doing now, Miss Marlowe?’ And when she didn’t, couldn’t answer, he added irritably: ‘And looking all star-struck too... at three in the morning!’ It was too, too awful. Joanna sought for inspiration, groped for words, but both failed her. It really was too idiotic for anything to be caught studying recipes in the small hours, by a man who already thought you the biggest dill he’d ever met in his life! And as the absurdity of it rushed over her, this new Joanna surprised even herself. She burst out laughing and said: ‘Well, it’s a fair cop! I was trying to find how you make porridge!’ Matthew Greenwood took one startled look at her, fearing she’d gone clean out of her mind, and dropped into the nearest chair. ‘My dear Miss Marlowe, I think you must be — must be — still a little bit muzzy with shock,’ and the contrast with his assured manner earlier set Joanna off again. She felt tears of laughter just trickle out of her eyes, then sat up and said, ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Greenwood, I know it sounds crazy, but—’ ‘It is crazy,’ he interrupted in a firmer tone, ‘doesn’t just sound crazy. Miss Marlowe, just how old are you?’

She blinked, trying to control her mirth. ‘You do switch from one subject to the other! You confuse me. Why do you want to know my age? But if you really do, I’m twenty- four.’ ‘Because I thought you looked about that, but didn’t think any girl could possibly get to that age without knowing how to cook porridge. Didn’t they teach cooking at your school?’ She shook her head. ‘Not at the select little academies I went to. Oh, don’t take that for a snobbish remark, Mr. Greenwood. Believe me, I’m more than sorry this very moment I didn’t get some home science somewhere — but that’s a long story, not for this time of night. Fact is, I didn’t. I felt if only I could find a recipe book for the fundamental things, I could fool you till I got away. You’ve such a bad opinion of me now I thought I might redeem myself.’ To her immense surprise, the square brown face softened. ‘It’s not altogether a bad opinion, Miss Marlowe. I know I was about as furious as a man could be, when I caught up with you in the river, but I’ve got to hand it to you that you didn’t panic, and even girls used to these conditions might have done so.’ ‘You kept that foot on the accelerator — it would have taken only a moment of sheer terror — and nobody would have blamed you for that — to have loosened the pressure and the engine would have died on us. I was all set to yank you out if that had happened, but it would have meant the loss of your car. The waters will be right up long since. I was amazed at your control and

tenacity, even if I did continue to bawl you out long after that, for getting into the situation in the first place.’ Joanna felt the warm colour flood her cheeks — not a blush of embarrassment this time but sheer pleasure at his praise. To be called brave, she who had always been so afraid of things. Matthew Greenwood surveyed her face with interest. ‘You’re blushing. What a funny girl you are, to be sure! I’d put you down as a sophisticated type.’ Joanna spread her fingers over her hot cheeks. ‘Oh, stop it! I can feel this blush getting deeper and deeper.’ He chuckled again, even though their conversation was instinctively carried on in muted tones. He got up and pulled the kettle forward on the stove. ‘We’ll brew a pot of tea and have something to eat. You’ll sleep better after it. And you needn’t worry about the porridge. I’ve made it for years. The men and I are so often on our own. At times we get a bit of help. I try for it when we’re shearing and mustering. There’s a couple in Christchurch who sometimes give me six weeks. They’re a bit old to take it on permanently, but the chap likes to get back to the mountains for a breather from the town. She does a sort of late springcleaning for me. So we have to cook or go without most of the year. Not to say we don’t appreciate a bit of cooking done for us, just the same. We’ve all enjoyed this year with Marguerite here.’

Joanna grinned at him, perfectly at ease all of a sudden. ‘Mr. Greenwood, I’ll make that porridge or bust! When I was little I wanted to snoop round in the kitchen, but M — but my — er — adoptive mother wouldn’t hear of it. Anyway, at that time we had a housekeeper who was a real termagant — loathed children under her feet. Altogether it was a formidable opposition.’ Matthew Greenwood’s blue eyes looked quite incredulous. ‘You mean you never had a bit of dough to roll out and make horribly grey with your grubby fingers? Or licked out a spicy pudding bowl? Why, I thought all kids were allowed to do that.’ Joanna’s face went sombre. ‘I expect it’s a natural heritage of childhood, but it didn’t come my way. My foster-mother regarded it as a sign of — oh, what shall I call it — of my plebian instincts. Of my humble beginnings. My own mother was her housekeeper. She died very suddenly when I was five. My father had died when I was three. I can’t remember either of them.’ He didn’t voice his sympathy, for which she was glad. He just nodded and then said: ‘And she adopted you as her daughter? Wasn’t that strange in a woman who understood children so little?’ Joanna had never once, in all the years, talked about it. You didn’t, when your guardian was a public figure. She said slowly, ‘I think she was lonely in spite of being very wealthy and gifted. Possessive too, though I don’t feel she had any idea that her motives were selfish. I didn’t know that either. You

don’t analyse things when you’re a child — you just accept them, dumbly. I was conscious only of being a great disappointment to her. ‘In what way?’ ‘Her idea of a little daughter was a frilly one... an elf-like creature to drift around in ballet-skirts on pointed toes. A child with a natural gift for acting... to play a pantomime part to start with, later to become a star. And she got me.’ Joanna started to laugh. ‘I expect I was really a tomboy type, only I never got a chance to develop that. I became a frightful coward. Her displeasure was something to be feared. I was on the way to developing a really hefty inferiority complex when all of a sudden — in my teens — I found there was something I could do that would be of use to her. In a secretarial way. It gave me confidence in that one thing.’ He said sharply, with a note of surprise that was good for her ego, ‘Only in one thing? Surely not? You don’t look as if you lacked confidence in anything.’ Joanna shook her head at him. ‘You just don’t know me. How I work. How I react.’ He lifted an eyebrow at her. ‘Do I not? Oh, do I not, my girl! Most would have burst into tears once they got to safety or succumbed to hysterics in sheer relief. But not you — oh no! I let fly at you unmercifully and you ought to have crumbled. But what happened? You threw back your head — your hair was standing up like a rooster’s comb — and the next moment you were

dressing me down about democracy and national prejudice and I don’t know what all!’ Joanna laughed back. A glow of pleasure that was out of all proportion spread over her. This was somehow real. It was going to be a very short interlude in her life, but an important one. Even though they had met in anger, even though he had deplored her folly, he still respected her, even called it courage. She had a feeling that here in these mountains that ought to dwarf you into insignificance, embroiled in the threat of that fearsome river, she had still found her real self. She would never again be the same timid, hesitant Joanna, taking the easiest way out, smoothing over situations, offering services in lieu of the gifts she had never possessed and which Maria had longed for her to have. Matthew Greenwood rose and filled the teapot, lifted a small stool to the hearthrug, put two mugs on it, and got a tin of biscuits out of the cupboard. ‘We don’t have to stand on style, do we, and put the biscuits on a plate?’ ‘Not at three-thirty in the morning,’ agreed Joanna comfortably, dipping into the tin. Matthew dunked his gingernut in his tea and bit into it appreciatively. Joanna took a quick look and followed suit, something she had always wanted to do.

Maria would have been horrified. They ate several biscuits, quite mechanically. They lapsed into silence. Joanna felt a pleasant drowsiness stealing over her. Good, she’d sleep now. Especially with the bogey of the porridge-making dispelled. This man was far more understanding than she’d thought he would be. He’d be quite tolerant of her bungling attempts now he knew why the culinary arts had been a sealed book to her. Oh yes, and there was something else. She’d tell him about her Great-uncle Henry, how he had suddenly appeared in her life, the only relative she had ever known, and how it had made her long to see at closer range than the far bank of the wide river-bed, this place he had known and loved. She put her cup down, said, ‘Thank you, that was nectar.’ She stood up, tall and graceful in the apricot quilted satin, the robe buttoned to her creamy throat, a little ruff of ruched lace and loops of satin bebe ribbon encircling it, her hair a bright flame, her eyes warm and brown. She turned and reached into the cupboard for the old account book. ‘When I was hunting for recipes I came across this — almost thought I’d got what I was after when I saw some woman had written basic instructions for cooking vegetables and so on, here among these early accounts. Look... and it says at the top Henry Worthington Dean. Now he’s—’ she got no further.

The brown brows had twitched together over the vivid blue eyes. He said scornfully: ‘Henry Worthington Dean! That was one of the very early settlers up here. An absolute rotter! Completely untrustworthy.’ Joanna blinked. ‘Oh, I thought — I mean, I thought it sounded quite pathetic, his having to learn the elementary things about cooking. It gave me a fellowfeeling for him. A man all alone.’ Matthew Greenwood snorted. ‘He wasn’t alone, believe me. Not for long, anyway, after he bought this place. Those instructions were written in for him by a girl who’d trusted him implicitly. Someone who was even willing to share her life with him — up here — a very different proposition from the life we live now, of course. No electricity of any kind. No air-strips for emergencies, no river-grader to re-form the track away from new quicksands after floods, no four-wheel drive trucks — only horses. She was willing for all that. She must have loved him madly to even face taking it. Until she found out her precious Henry wasn’t alone at all. He had a woman living here. So she turned him down. He didn’t stick it long after that. Public opinion was dead against him. He drifted off to Australia, I believe, and has never been heard of since.’ Joanna bit back all she wanted to say. She turned and put the notebook back in the cupboard. She was here for so short a time. Better not to confess she was Henry’s great-niece. It would only embarrass him and, as she had

apparently not been in possession of all the facts, she just couldn’t convincingly fly to his defence. She’d judged Uncle Henry to be a fine, upstanding character. Well, many an apparently respectable man of his age had a seamy past. He must have been just romancing when he told her of his broken engagement with Kirsty. Of all things Joanna couldn’t stand people who didn’t know when romancing stopped and lies began. Much harder to fathom than a direct untruth. But at the most she’d be here a couple of days, she supposed. Matthew Greenwood had said during the evening meal that if all the lower snow had melted in yesterday’s Indian Summer heat, the river could drop in thirty-six hours. What then did it matter? She’d lie low like Brer Rabbit and say nuffin. She yawned. ‘I shan’t find it hard to go to sleep now, Mr. Greenwood. Good job I’ve got a travelling alarm, or I’ll sleep in. Good night.’ At that moment, as he rose, there was the most startling noise outside. To Joanna’s horror, she clutched her host. ‘Whatever is that?’ He pulled a face. ‘Just thunder among the hills. It rolls round the valley. With the blind drawn I didn’t notice the lightning that must have preceded it. Let’s have a look.’ He went ahead of her down the long concrete-floored passageway that had windows its full length and then opened the door right at the end, the

schoolroom door. ‘It sounded as if it came from the back, right in the big fellows.’ He didn’t switch the lights on. As they went in the whole room was illuminated with the next flash, an eerie light, a light that seemed to belong to worlds far away, of whiteness that was almost green and somehow evil. He added to the spookiness by saying: ‘Ah, I thought so. See... right over Thunderclap Peak and beyond to the Witches’ Cauldron. Probably has been cooking up all day behind the ranges. That unseasonable heat usually bursts in something. See, you’ll have to wait for the next flare... there... see those lower peaks sort of scooped out between those two very high ones? Look, spectacular, isn’t it? Even if it couldn’t have come at a worse time.’ She had to wait till the thunder had stopped reverberating before she could ask him, ‘What do you mean?’ But she knew. He said, ‘The river will be running bank to bank long before morning. Both rivers, which means the men won’t get down either. We’ll have a deluge in a few moments. Oh, the men will be okay. There’s enough stuff in the huts for a fortnight, and plenty of deer on the hills, but—’ She knew what lay behind that ‘but’. But she, the unwelcome, embarrassing stranger, was going to be marooned here for much longer than the day or two he had expected. The longer she stayed, the harder he would find it to explain to this strait-laced Christine who

could stand no hint of unconventionality. And the more likely it was to get out, too. How strange that a man like Matthew Greenwood had fallen for such a girl. She must be the type to take on the mountains — you’d expect a girl like that to be big-minded. It didn’t tie up. After all, she, Joanna, had got here by pure accident — folly if you like. She’d not seen this man before, in her life, and it wasn’t his fault that he’d had to fish her out of the river and offer her hospitality at the very time his men were away and his cousin in hospital. She must be the possessive type. They were usually beyond seeing reason. Perhaps she was unsure of Matthew Greenwood’s love to be like that. She mustn’t judge her too hastily. There was usually a story behind such things. Perhaps she came from a broken home, where she had seen unfaithfulness in her father or something. She didn’t know what to say, so she did the wise thing and said nothing, but watched the splendid ferocity of the storm above the mountains, commenting on it between the claps and rolls of thunder. ‘I’ve never seen a coloured storm before.’ He nodded. ‘Even when I deplore the results of such storms, I still can’t help enjoying the spectacle.’ He turned and looked at her in the bright moonlight and said, ‘You ought to be scared out of your wits — but you’re loving it.’

She blinked. That was true. Unobserved, as he turned back to the window, she shook her head a little, impatiently. Yes, she ought to be scared stiff, but in the presence of this man who had saved her from the River of Regret, it was impossible to be afraid of the elements. He was part of them, had striven against them many a time. He respected them but did not fear them. Suddenly the vivid violet, coral and amber and lemon lights were blotted out and on the steep tin roof the sound of the torrents of rain drowned out their voices even more than the thunder had. Matthew put his lips almost against her ear. ‘Don’t worry, we’re far above the reach of flood waters here. The first land-owner picked this site well on this ancient ridge. I think we’d better go to bed now. Thank heavens the kids have slept through it.’ As she climbed into bed Joanna was conscious of a tumult of feelings as splendid and conflicting and confusing as the storm she had witnessed. She couldn’t understand herself at all and she had a vague idea that it would be better not to try to analyse. Despite everything, she slept till her alarm woke her at seven.

CHAPTER FOUR SHE woke refreshed by the few hours’ oblivion, but almost immediately felt uneasy. At first she didn’t know where she was, then, as her eye fell on unfamiliar surroundings, a vague awareness set in... this was a day she had dreaded. The whole sequence of events came rushing back, sending her sitting bolt upright. She wished there was a second storey on the house so she could rush up to see if the river-bed still looked as impassable. If only she could get back over it and disappear from Heronscrag, nobody need know she’d been there. Nobody that mattered. It looked much colder outside. Inside you couldn’t tell because the house was so well heated. Outside it was grey and wet with low clouds hiding the mountain tops and everywhere the sound of waters pouring down hillsides, a sound that struck dismay into her. She washed quickly, donning russet-coloured trews, a bright green polonecked sweater, and slipping a stretchy green Alice-band over her copper hair to keep it in place. Might stop it rising if she lost her temper! She went quickly along to the kitchen to find her host struggling to get Michael into his overalls. He fastened the last button gladly, inspected Toby’s ears and tilted up his chin to look underneath.

‘Ah, good morning, Miss Marlowe... Toby, you’ve missed it again. There’s a real triangle under your chin. It is not enough to wash each side of your neck and leave hat bit, though how anyone could miss it in their bath — you did bath last night, didn’t you? — I don’t know. It’s just not good enough, do you hear? I can’t possibly do all this supervising while your mother is away. I don’t dare let her standards slip, though. If I catch you like this just once more, I’ll tan the hide off you! Savvy?’ Toby savvied, promised not to skimp washing again, and put a distance between him and his cousin with great alacrity. Philippa looked as neat and self-possessed as ever, but this morning Joanna didn’t feel half as nervous of her. Not since she had seen stark misery and fear about her mother looking out of the little girl’s eyes. The self-possession was simply because she was the eldest of the family. She felt responsible for the two younger ones and almost on equal terms with her Cousin Matthew. Joanna had murmured good morning in reply, and waited while he straightened Toby up and now said, ‘What’s the drill, Mr. Greenwood?’ She managed a faint smile. ‘Shall I start that porridge?’ ‘No great hurry, but yes, you can. By the way, you’d better make it Matthew or Matt. In this sort of situation it’s rather ridiculous to have it any other way. And would you mind if the kids made it Joanna?’

‘Of course not. I’d have suggested that myself, but — well, I’ll be here such a short time.’ Across the big kitchen her eyes met his. She could not read his expression. She thought it was grim. Perhaps resigned. ‘At the present moment I’m afraid I couldn’t predict how long. It’s just as well your folk — your associates, I mean — aren’t expecting you to join them quickly. I listened to an early forecast. It looks as if the weather is going to treat us now to all the usual winter stuff we’ve had so little of this season so far. They’re predicting the lot... snow, sleet, hail, rain, gale force winds.’ Joanna looked completely horrified. ‘How — how much chance of getting out before it happens?’ She looked out of the window where, though it was so grey, the rain had ceased. He said: ‘Come to the look-out and see. No, you youngsters need not come. Philippa, keep an eye on Michael. He is standing by himself, so see he doesn’t pull anything over on him. I’ll push all the kettles back. Come on, Joanna.’ The look-out was through a door at the end of the passage by his own bedroom, and was simply a narrow wooden stair, quite bare, that led up to a small square room with double-hung windows in each of its four sides. In the corners were ancient skis and snowshoes, skates and harness. But under each of the four windows the floor space was clear. On a dilapidated table

were two or three pairs of binoculars. With the house already on a height, it gave a marvellous view. Matthew scooped up the largest pair, adjusted them, standing at the east window, and then handed them to Joanna. She didn’t really need them. Even with the naked eye she could see the vast rushing torrent of waters, in a width that had joined all the streams — nothing like the scene of yesterday, with those lazy trickles — but a wide and impassable barrier. Something that would not keep her from civilization but would prove a barrier to harmonious relations between Matthew and his Christine. She was appalled. She gulped. ‘Mr. — I mean Matthew — they rose so swiftly. Might they go down just as swiftly?’ He said slowly, ‘They can go down quickly — though there’s more stuff to come, they say. It’s not that, though. It’s often too hazardous to cross right away. Huge holes get scoured out. Often a stream changes course completely. Fine, jelly-like sand results, you see, too fine to allow the water to drain away. Quicksands. And as for that forecast...’ He shook his head. ‘The river’s going to be dirty for ages.’ Joanna bit her lip. ‘I’m terribly sorry about this. I can see it’s really a crime to be as thoughtless as I was yesterday. Especially as it could affect your future — your personal life. I feel sure I would be able to explain it myself to this

Christine. That it was entirely due to my folly and that — that we — er — just put up with each other out of sheer necessity.’ He had his back to her and he drummed his fingers on the sill. ‘H’mm. Well, it’s a decent offer — only Christine has a fair obsession. One flaw in an otherwise lovely nature.’ Joanna said hesitantly yet scarcely able to stop herself, ‘It’s — it’s a fairly big flaw, isn’t it? If — if she can be so — so suspicious of circumstances which can’t be helped.’ He nodded, but with a complete absence of resentment, ‘Yes, but then it goes back many years. It broke things up for her.’ Just as Joanna had thought. Probably Christine’s father ad been unfaithful to her mother and broken up the home. You could understand it giving her a complex, but it was a pity to carry it into adult life and to let it make her so unjustly suspicious. He added: ‘And it does sound lame, anyone venturing across one of our riverbeds to take photos.’ If he hadn’t been so scathing about Uncle Henry last night, Joanna would have told him that she’d had sentimental reasons, but she mustn’t. That old scandal would do nothing in the eyes of the jealous Christine to make her

regard Joanna as a suitable person to be cooped up with her Matthew for days and days. Joanna sent up a silent prayer that the weather forecasters might be wrong and the river subside abnormally quickly and safely. Matthew Greenwood said briskly: ‘Well, I never believe in meeting trouble half-way. We’ll just hope Christine stays up in the North Island a lot longer than she intended to when last she wrote.’ ‘Where does she live? Near here?’ ‘Not to say near, but not too far either. Timaru, on the coast. But she often comes up.’ Joanna supposed she’d come up accompanied by a whole retinue of duennas! Then she rebuked herself for the catty thought. They returned to the porridge making. Philippa, surprised at Joanna’s attention to the packet instructions, said, ‘Don’t you make porridge in England? Do they eat it only in Scotland?’ Joanna laughed, ‘No, it’s only that I’ve never made it before.’ Matthew said nonchalantly, ‘Joanna works for a very busy woman whose time is too important for her to attend to such things. They have a cook. And of course the cook wouldn’t like it if Joanna took over her job. They each stick to their own.’

To their surprise Philippa took it quite well. ‘Oh, like in that Moated Grange story, they were all born with silver spoons in their mouths, but then the family fortunes were suddenly ruined and all the servants left and they were quite helpless. But a little gipsy girl they’d been kind to came and showed them how to keep house and finally found a treasure buried there in the Wars of the Roses and later on they found she was their own little daughter who was stolen from them years before. It was a beaut book. Mummy let me read till ten one night to finish it.’ Matthew’s eyes twinkled. ‘You’ll have to look out, Joanna, I can see that from now on Philippa will be instructing you in every art of housekeeping and I’m not at all sure it will be the right way.’ ‘I’ll be most grateful,’ vowed Joanna. ‘Philippa, regard me as an absolute ninny at cooking and I’ll try to at least earn my salt.’ ‘Why do you want to earn some salt?’ demanded Toby. ‘Salt’s pretty cheap and easy to get, isn’t it? Gosh, I’m hungry.’ ‘Well, get stuck into looking after that toast, young man,’ said his cousin. ‘And if you really want to know, that was a very sensible remark. It’s become a saying. The Roman legions used to be paid in salt which was very scarce and dear. Imagine a meal without salt!’ Toby heaved a sigh and began sliding slices of bread into a pop-up toaster. His cousin must have cut them sooner. He must have been up extremely

early, Joanna thought guiltily, and after a very disturbed night, too. Because sausages were almost ready, a great dish of fried-up potato was pushed to the back of the range, and just as Joanna, hot- faced and anxious, held out her pan to him and said, ‘Will this porridge be ready now?’ he flipped bacon rashers on to a grill set in a square dish and slid it into the oven. Then he began cracking eggs with such dexterity and speed it made her fiercely envious. She said, uncertainly, ‘How do you know just how to time everything?’ ‘I suppose from years of baching?’ Joanna looked puzzled. ‘Baching? What’s that?’ ‘Isn’t it a word you use in England? No? Well, a bach is a hut — sometimes a seaside cottage, sometimes one room that a farm worker has to himself and does camp cooking in it. So when a man looks after himself we call it baching.’ Joanna spooned the porridge into the waiting bowls, Philippa tied Michael’s feeder on, and Toby was told to wait until grace was said. Joanna was most relieved to find it palatable, feeling a glow, out of all proportion, stealing over her. Philippa was wonderful with Michael, somehow managing to eat her own, while assisting him. That is, till Michael suddenly said, ‘All done!’ and just to prove it, turned his half-full bowl over on the tray of the chair.

Matthew groaned. ‘Beautiful childhood, they say! I’d call it something else. Michael, don’t put your hands in it!’ He swooped, one instant too late. As he picked Michael up, Michael pushed a little fat hand into the gooey mess and promptly wiped it on Matthew’s hair. Joanna stood up swiftly, seized her napkin, and Michael’s arm, holding the hand still, and, surprising even herself, with one deft movement wiped the little hand clean, then folded the napkin over to a clean place and wiped the blobs off the stubbly fair hair of the man who looked so helpless at that moment. It gave her the most extraordinary sensation, one she had never experienced before. A warmth. This, then, was really being one of a family. Confidence flowed into her. She took Michael out of Matthew’s arms and said in a stern voice, ‘That was very naughty,’ and whisked him along to the bathroom. Matthew was dishing out the eggs and sausages when she returned, but she said, ‘Would you mind putting mine back in the oven, I’ll give the baby the rest of his porridge.’ She didn’t know how lucky she was. Michael could just as easily have refused to swallow another mouthful, but he was so surprised to find a stranger feeding him, he opened and shut his mouth just like a little bird. Everyone else was surprised too and said so, at the end. Joanna relaxed still more under their approval. Then she set him on his feet, pushed her cup away

from the edge, and ate her own breakfast with relish, Michael, to the great admiration of his brother and sister, staying upright. Toby said, ‘I’ll just ring that Gerald Lunning after breakfast and tell him. He thinks he’s Christmas because his little brother was walking before his first birthday. I’ll tell him our baby is now, and he’s got twice as much hair and twice as many teeth as their baby, see!’ Matthew pulled a face. ‘Really, the things kids find to fight over! You’ll do nothing of the kind. Now, out with the dishes, rinse them and stack them in the washer, then into the schoolroom.’ In the hour that followed, much of Joanna’s newly-won confidence oozed away. She didn’t know if it was their normal speed or not, but even the children seemed to be geared to quick action. She herself seemed slow and bumbling. They cleared the table and stacked the dishes while the master of Heronscrag prepared a midday meal. Joanna watched. She knew she must not delay him by offering to do it, then having to get him to instruct her. He said, grinning, ‘I’m no fancy cook — you’ll be longing for your old life — but I can throw in a roast of meat and put vegies on, or do a casserole like this, or a grill. No variety.’ As he spoke he was chopping up, in the work kitchen, a vast quantity of chops. They even had a sort of miniature butcher’s block.

He said to her, ‘Trim off as much fat as you can, on this chopping board — like this,’ and cut off some thick slices of fat. Joanna flushed and grasped the knife. She was twice as slow, but managed not too badly. He grabbed a bowl, tipped in some potatoes and carrots and onions and ran warm water over them. He handed her a peeler. ‘You do the potatoes and I’ll do the others.’ He wielded his peeler with such speed Joanna felt more bumble-fingered than ever. She really didn’t know how to hold the peeler and either got it embedded, or just took off a shaving. ‘Like this,’ he advised, standing at the back of her, and holding her hands in his. He was completely impersonal, and Joanna was annoyed with herself for being so aware of him. It was a slow and painful business. And the wretched potatoes had such deep-set eyes. He was finished his carrots and had all the onions peeled before she’d done three potatoes. She felt humiliated as he began to help her. She watched fascinated as he mixed salt and pepper into flour on a paper, dipped the chops in both sides, laid them in the casserole, put the vegetables on top, sprinkled more salt on and filled the dish up with water. He slid the whole thing into the oven and said, ‘That’s that. Wouldn’t matter now if I didn’t look at it till half-past twelve. It’s not like having to keep stoking the old coal-range.’

He disappeared into the schoolroom and she could hear him issuing orders. His voice sounded quite pleasant, but she imagined the children wouldn’t dare disobey, which was what was needed in these conditions. He came out, said to her, ‘I’ve the outside chores to do. Would you be able to look after Michael and make the beds and come in every now and then to make quite sure the kids are getting on with their work? They’ll be listening to the school on the air and they know the drill well enough.’ ‘I couldn’t cope with this for any length of time, but the holidays will soon be here and Brownie back before long, I hope. And as long as Marguerite gets well, I’ll not mind.’ Well, at least Joanna could make beds. She had always made her own. But Michael was a distraction. Joanna felt she might be able to manage children more easily, if they were older. However, after she’d made her own bed and the children’s, she nervously took a peep into the bedroom of the master of the house. He might not like her doing his. Normally, when only he and his men were here, they’d all make their own, anyway. Still, she’d hate to leave it. Although it was such a large room, it had the bed right against one of the windows. As if not content with being out among the Big Fellows all day, he wanted to be able to watch them from his bed too... last thing at night he’d watch the moon above the Alps, the stars and the white clouds that would

drift across them. First thing in the morning he would see the sunrise flush the glaciers and snow pockets with amethyst, poppy, rose and mother-of-pearl. A mountain man. Or, as they called themselves, high-country men. They were men of the mountain faces and swirling blizzards, men of indomitable will who had to bring thousands of merino sheep through all the phases of their existence... those station-owners on the other side of Lake Wakatipu had talked of it... mustering, lambing, shearing, crutching, having veterinary skills and endless patience, at times even digging in deep snow to find their flocks. What could a man like that have in common with Joanna Marlowe, bred to a soft, luxurious life, her only mark of efficiency her skill as a stenographer and linguist? She pulled herself up on the thought. What on earth was the matter with her? Why did she want to stand well with this man, to compel his respect? It was simply ridiculous. A few days at most and she’d make her way north to Maria, content not to venture out of her environment again. Perhaps it was foolish to attempt to do so. It seemed to unsettle you. She pulled the bed away from the window and made it up with great care, for some reason taking an absurd pleasure in pulling the heavy checked flannelette sheets to a taut, wrinkleless smoothness and tucking in the corners with a hospital-like precision.

Two books lay open face downwards on his bedside table. One was a book on mountain mustering and bore the incomprehensible title of ‘Wayleggo’ (she was to learn later it was a command to the dogs) and the other, strangely it seemed to her, was a book of verse. It was Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, long a favourite of Joanna’s. She never travelled anywhere without a copy. She knew a little warmth at her heart. They had something in common, anyhow. Then she turned and saw on the wall beside the tallboy, a row of pictures, in a slanting row, and all of the same girl, dark, eager-looking, an intense and vital creature. In one she was on skis. In one she was astride a horse, her hair flowing out behind her. In the other she was standing under a tree out in the garden, a smiling, summer garden, her arm linked in Matthew’s, a laughing, confident, happy girl. A girl who belonged to the mountains. A New Zealander bred and born. No doubt she couldn’t only ride, swim, ski, drive a proper vehicle through a river and know when not to... she was probably also a good cook and superb housekeeper. She might even like the same sort of poetry too. What kind of poetry did this man like, anyway? She turned the book up. It was her own name that looked up at her: Marlowe. Christopher Marlowe, who, in the stirring days of the first Queen Elizabeth had written, Come live with me and be my Love,

and we will all the pleasures prove That hills and valley, dales and fields, Or woods or steepy mountain yields. Certainly a poem for this place. She stood and gazed out of the window. The mountains that made the Great Divide of the Southern Alps, marking the line between Canterbury on the east, and Westland, also marked the west boundary of Heronscrag, Matthew had told her last night. They had a thick line of mist across their middle slopes now, but their peaks were blindingly white in a sudden break-through of sun. Was it possible that, after all, the forecast was wrong and the weather was going to clear? Her eyes roamed to the right where, in the valley where one of the turbulent rivers cut through, the Witches’ Cauldron lay. No wonder they had named it that. Like evil smoke welling up from some devilish brew, black clouds were thickening. The weather came from there, Matthew had said, from the West Coast, borne across the Tasman Sea. Well, there was nothing she could do about it. Even Matthew Greenwood, to whom her stay here could mean trouble, seemed to be reasonably philosophical about it this morning. She supposed he’d deal with it in his own way when, if ever, his Christine heard of it. Did anyone ever call her Chris or Kit? she wondered. Had Matthew Greenwood been nostalgic for her last night and was that why he had read Marlowe’s poem?

At that moment Michael pulled over a whole box of dusty-looking fishing flies and lures and Joanna decided she’d better get him out of here. She pulled up the thick plaid rug that Matthew used as a bedspread, picked Michael up and departed, shutting the door behind her, so he couldn’t get in again. The children seemed to be getting on reasonably well with what they were supposed to be doing, though possibly they’d just resumed when they’d heard her coming. Joanna realized, with relief, that she could manage the morning tea-break quite well. It would be just tea and biscuits and certainly this house was stocked well with biscuits, just like a grocer’s shop. She had just set out a small blue-and-white checked cloth on the red table, and rinsed out the tea-pot (this much she knew) when she heard Matthew come in. His face brightened as he noticed. ‘Ah, good, you’re beginning to find your way round. I’ll ring the bell for the kids.’ As they pelted out, making enough noise for a dozen children released from desks, Joanna said, ‘I’ve made the beds and tidied the bedrooms.’ ‘Thank goodness. Never knew anything take as long as bedmaking. Not that the kids aren’t used to making their own, but as it takes longer to get them organized than Marguerite, I was making theirs after I got them duly installed in the schoolroom.’

Joanna knew an elation not known before. Perhaps she was going to be able to cope with things here and not be altogether a liability. Yet every time she remembered she had no more idea of how to cook a dinner than to ford that river, she felt sick in the pit of her stomach for the days ahead. Matthew might not always spare the time to do it as he had this first morning. The children, wrapped up well, were allowed out to play for quarter of an hour, then Matthew said, ‘I’ll have to supervise their lessons till lunch-time. That’s all the time I can spare them today. Fortunately their exams are over and posted away, but they must be kept in their routine as well as I can manage. There are heaps of jars of preserved fruit in the storeroom. Not ideal for a winter pudding, but the best I can do. Plenty of cream to go with it, anyway. If I heated Michael’s bottle up, would you be able to put him down and perhaps you could — no, I’ll attend to them later.’ Joanna said curiously, ‘To what? I could try perhaps.’ He pulled a face and shook his head. ‘No, neither Philippa nor I care for that job, so we certainly couldn’t expect a greenhorn to tackle it. We’ll manage it this afternoon. When I think of your background I wouldn’t dare.’ A greenhorn. Even at that he was probably letting her down lightly. He meant complete and useless nitwit at the least. Joanna said sturdily and a trifle mulishly, ‘Well, you might at least give a greenhorn a chance. She

doesn’t have to stay a greenhorn. Who knows? I might have a flair for this very thing!’ His face broke up. When he stopped laughing he said, ‘Never heard of anyone having a flair for this... I was talking of nappy washing! If only, if only Michael had been a bit older! He’s only partly trained.’ Joanna said calmly but with a slight edge to her tone, ‘Well, I’ll give it a go.’ He said, ‘Well, if you don’t fancy it, I’ll not think any the worse of you for turning it down.’ He led her to a door, said, ‘Well, there’s the laundry. You’ll—’ and left her promptly as an ominous hullabaloo broke out in the schoolroom. Joanna saw two huge concrete tubs, full of nappies soaking. She gazed helplessly round, saw soap flakes and powder, and chose the flakes. There was a large washing-machine standing to one side, but she was much too scared to attempt to use it, and Matthew would be no better off for time if he had to come and show her how. She’d do them by hand, and get Philippa to show her how to use the machine when she wasn’t at lessons. Oh, what a useless way Maria had brought her up! But she supposed soap flakes acted like bath salts. Somehow she managed it though she used far too many flakes, and had to rinse them three times. She squeezed them out and put them in a big plastic clothes-basket and set out for the clothes-line she had noticed the night before. A clothes-peg holder was attached to a post, so

that was no trouble, but the wind was enough to cut you in half, and her fingers turned stiff and useless immediately. What a place to live! She came inside, rummaged in her case, and picked out a pair of red woolly ski gloves she’d used on Coronet Peak above Queenstown. The gloves were too thick really, but she managed it and once back safely inside the laundry, gazed with considerable pleasure at the line of nappies blowing almost horizontally in the strong west wind. She’d better keep an eye on them or they’d finish up in Moana Kotuku. She slipped quietly along to Michael’s room and was relieved to find him blissfully asleep. She came back to the kitchen and, carried away by her success with the washing, decided all she needed to do to produce a hot pudding was to read up one of the recipe books. Look how simple it had been to follow that porridge recipe. Nothing to it. She supposed a woman’s instinct only ever lay dormant. She leafed madly through the books. Blast this craze for fancy cooking! She doubted if she could make glazed pineapple shortcake, even with the aid of that magnificent collection of tinned stuff in the store. Or a lemon soufflé. She remembered Mrs. Russell was always touchy when she made a soufflé. Everyone had to be up at the table promptly. Better not attempt anything too ambitious.

Oh, praise be, here was something she could find all ingredients for without asking anyone... a baked custard. You simply beat up the eggs, added milk and sugar and beat it again. Sprinkle with nutmeg if desired. Ah, there was the rub, did they like nutmeg at Heronscrag? She decided to risk it. This was to be a surprise to them, served with the preserved apricots that Matthew had opened and put in a glass dish. She managed the mixing well. Funny to have to stand the pie-dish on another of hot water, and she found it hard to find a dish that was big enough to take the first and then she put so much water in that it floated, but at last she got it right. It said bake in a slow oven till set. Now what constituted a slow oven? None of these scribbled recipes had temperatures given. She gazed at the big stove, plopping and purring. There was a huge oven on one side and two on the other. The temperature chart on the big one was very high. The lower oven was the one she’d seen Matthew put the casserole in, so she popped her custard in the top one. She slid it in, burning her arm where she’d pushed up her sleeve, on the oven door, but she didn’t care. She had achieved a pudding! She carefully washed up — oh, wasn’t egg hard to get off — and began to set the table, just putting mats on the big red formica top. She’d have loved to have set it out in that beautiful dining-room with the gloriously polished mahogany table, but Matthew had said as he served his grill last night, ‘With Marguerite away, we’re being informal. No tablecloths and we eat in the kitchen.’

Joanna found a duster and decided to dust the bedrooms. When she came back to the kitchen a horrible odour hung on the air. She seized an oven-cloth and opened the door of the oven. She gazed in dismay. There was a horrible black-brown crusted skin on her beautiful pudding and milk had boiled up through it all over the tray. Well, that proved it wasn’t a slow oven, she supposed grimly. She drew it out and almost dropped it as the hot dishes burned through the oven-cloth she’d used singly. She got it on to the bench before her fingers were too badly burned. Then she folded the cloth into several thicknesses and rushed the dishes outside. She had an instinctive feeling that the smell would be better outside the kitchen. She could have cried with sheer vexation. How humiliating and disappointing! Then a gleam shot into her eye. How about that other recipe that had said it was a quick pudding? Fruit sponge? That would take a quick oven, and at least she knew it was that. Out came the dishes again... it said stew any fruit suitable, such as apricots, apples, peaches, then pour the mixture on top. Matthew had said dinner would be at twelve-thirty. She just hoped he stayed in that schoolroom, that was all. Even to her inexperienced eye it looked a good mixture. And at least the fruit was cooked. Joanna tipped it into another pie dish. Joanna was fond of fruit sponge herself, even if she’d never seen one made.

Joanna popped it in the oven and wished she knew how long to bake it. These recipes were hopeless for a beginner. They had been written for cooks who not only had gumption but long experience. She had a vague idea that you mustn’t keep opening the oven and forced herself not to, for at least a quarter of an hour. She only prayed it would not burn on top. The family erupted into the kitchen at twenty past twelve and Matthew Greenwood gave a sniff, an appreciative sniff. ‘What can I smell?’ he asked, gazing at her in astonishment, ‘Not a burnt smell?’ asked Joanna anxiously. ‘I tried a baked custard and burnt it, so I tried something else. It said a quick oven, so I’m hoping—’ ‘Oh, it’s not a burnt smell. It’s a lovely smell. Like a cake.’ Joanna beamed. ‘It’s an apricot sponge pudding,’ she said proudly. ‘I’ve just looked at it and it’s delicately browned on top. Have you any idea how long it ought to take?’ ‘Not really, but I think I could tell if I had a look. How long has it been in? I mean, it didn’t go flop when you opened the door, did it?’ She shook her head, assuming the expression of anxiety again. ‘Unless it’s flopped since.’

They all went across to the stove and Matthew gently opened the door. He whistled. ‘That’s perfect,’ he said. ‘Evidently you’re a born cook.’ ‘There just wasn’t anything to it,’ said Joanna modestly. And added, ‘But it’s just as well you didn’t see the other.’ She felt as if she were in the seventh heaven. Matthew drew it out and put it on the rack. ‘I vote we have ours while Michael is still asleep.’ He grabbed the oven-cloth, drew out his casserole, and ladled out great spoonfuls. ‘No ceremony — no vegetable dishes — only a casserole to wash, I’m all in favour of such meals.’ Joanna had a sense of well-being. For the time, at any rate, she could forget the spectre of the complex-ridden Christine and enjoy the novelty of coping with a family. She’d made a real and unnecessary bogey of the cooking last night. It was a tough assignment for a single man — coping with lessons, cooking, and house as well as the outside jobs which no doubt would increase if his men couldn’t get back across the Awatipu. Perhaps he would be grateful in the end that she’d been washed up on his doorstep. Proudly she carried her pudding to the table, sat down in front of it to serve, dipped a table-spoon into the crisp top, and out flowed a cascade of raw mixture! Frustrated, they all gazed at it, three with rue, Joanna with mortification.

‘Well, I’ll be damned!’ said Matthew, ‘and it looked so delectable. How on earth did you get it like that?’ Joanna could have burst into tears. No wonder all the cooks Maria had ever had had been temperamental creatures at best. How could things go wrong so easily? Matthew said slowly, ‘I think I know why. You had it in the grilling oven because I had the casserole in the slow oven. The grilling oven never gets hot at the bottom, so only the top cooked. But you’d have thought there would have been enough heat in the boiling apricots to have cooked it upwards.’ ‘Boiling?’ said poor Joanna. ‘But the apricots were cold. I just poured the sponge mixture straight on.’ Matthew couldn’t help it, though Joanna could have slain him. He laughed. Then he pulled himself together and said, ‘Well, how could you know if the recipe didn’t say so?’ Joanna said, ‘Well, I suppose it did in a manner of speaking. It said stew the fruit, which would mean it would be hot. Only I’m so green.’ Matthew took a quick look at her face and said: ‘Well, I’m all for eating it. It’s not every cook who can make a dish complete with sauce as well as pudding. You youngsters have been scraping out cake bowls since you were toddlers and fighting for the privilege. Well, you can have a gala day on this,’ and he seized the serving spoon off Joanna and ladled out four helpings.

In vain she protested that they could open another jar and just have cream with it, but they insisted on eating it. She almost hated them for their magnanimity, Matthew most of all. She walked in the humiliation of it, all day. But towards sundown, at three-thirty, because they were so close to the ranges, as she brought in the napkins and began to fold them, Matthew said, ‘Never mind, green girl, that was the loveliest sight I ever saw in my life... that row of washing on the line! Did you hate the job as much as I did? Because all the more credit due to you, if you did.’ Joanna blinked. She’d just found something out that made her feel much, much better. Her tone held the surprise of it. ‘Matthew, how funny! I didn’t mind it a bit.’ She started to laugh. ‘Perhaps it was because I felt even I couldn’t go very far wrong on that!’ By the time they had their evening meal, bathed Michael and put him to bed, Joanna felt she’d love to sit down and relax. It wasn’t possible till the other two went to bed, then she sank down thankfully. Matthew looked at her. ‘I was going to light the fire in the lounge — not that it’s cold in there, but I like the look of an open fire — because I thought you might like a change of scenery — away from the battle-area, so to speak.’

Joanna waved her long, sweater-clad arms at him. ‘Don’t ask me to move. And it’s a novelty for me to sit in a kitchen. I love it. I’ll just read this magazine.’ He said: ‘Mind if I put the radio on? I want to hear the news and forecast. Sorry there’s no TV. I expect we’ll get it way up here eventually — many of the remote places have it now — but it will cost a fortune. At the moment it’s not possible, all sorts of problems to be solved, but it would be such a boon. It would help me to keep staff.’ Long before the announcer predicted that gale force winds and snow and hail were still coming, Joanna was fast asleep in her chair, utterly exhausted.

CHAPTER FIVE SHE woke suddenly, aware in a split second that something was different. She was lying on the kitchen couch, her face turned to the wall, and was covered with a rug. The kitchen was quite dim. She pushed the rug aside and peered over it. The light was still on, but it had a huge piece of brown paper tied over the side nearest her. On the other side a shaft of light streamed directly on the kitchen table where Matthew Greenwood was working steadily away at his books. Sheer astonishment — and some other emotion, not altogether unpleasant, that she would not analyse — crisped Joanna’s tone. ‘How on earth did I get here?’ He’d been so absorbed in his work, he jumped. ‘Oh, you are awake? The answer is, I carried you there.’ He took a look at her face and added: ‘Just as I would one of the kids. I thought you’d be more comfortable.’ She said, a little stiffly, nervous of this new and unaccustomed warmth within her, ‘You ought to have wakened me, Mr. Greenwood.’ His laugh held genuine merriment. ‘You’re going all formal on me! Besides, I tried to wake you. Where did you develop a capacity for sleep like that? I always say Toby sleeps like the dead... I know, because I’ve often undressed

him and he’s stayed asleep. I thought you ought to go to bed — after all, you had quite a night last night worrying about that porridge! But short of shaking you really vigorously, I hadn’t a hope of waking you.’ He grinned. ‘The way you went for me yesterday, on the river-bank, I thought if you woke to find yourself being manhandled, you’d probably clobber me! So I picked you up very gingerly and put you on there.’ Joanna got the message. He wanted her to take it lightly. And why shouldn’t she? It had meant nothing to this man, used as he was to family life. Families did these things for each other. So to hide that lingering sense of shyness and well, whatever else it was... she protested in the same teasing tone, ‘You make me sound a real virago!’ He grinned again. ‘What else? Good life, you’re looking pleased. Why?’ ‘Because I’ve been a mouse so long I’d much, much rather be a virago!’ She tossed back the rug and rose, stood and stretched herself and said crisply, ‘Heavens, is that the time? Have you been hoping I’d waken soon?’ He shook his head. ‘Not really. It simply didn’t matter. I just worked on in the peace and quiet.’ Joanna turned so he should not see the embarrassed red running up into her cheeks. Of course. She must remember this man loved the solitudes, that he probably hated having a stranger in his house. And she wasn’t just unwelcome, but an intruder. Because that really summed it up. She’d

invaded the privacy of this place, venturing beyond the formed road into private property, causing danger and inconvenience. She must not get lulled into a sense of being any other than an embarrassment he’d want to get rid of as soon as possible. She said, from behind him, ‘Would you like me to make you some tea now, or shall I just go to bed and leave you to it?’ He didn’t appear to notice the chill in her tone, and answered easily, ‘Yes, make us some tea. I’m nearly through.’ Joanna, glad this was something she could do without asking how, buttered some biscuits and made a pot of tea. She put it on a small tray and took it across to him, standing a little to one side and putting it down gently. ‘There you are, Mr. Greenwood. Good night.’ She passed behind him to cross to the door. He swung round swiftly, and seized her wrist with fingers that hurt. Well, that’s very sociable, isn’t it, Miss Marlowe? Are you moody, or what?’ She tightened her lips. ‘Must be or what. Because I’m definitely not moody. When you’ve lived on sufferance a long time you can’t indulge in moods. I’m not being sorry for myself either. Just stating a fact.’

His laughter infuriated her. ‘Joanna... Joanna, I’ve only your word for it that you were ever mouse-like. I can’t imagine it. If you could be likened to a small animal, it’d be a hedgehog for sure, all prickles.’ Joanna’s dark brown eyes met his and were not amused. ‘Well, Matthew, since you seem to insist on Christian names... only I find it hard to think of you other than Mr. Greenwood. I know I’m a nuisance and an embarrassment and that the sooner you are rid of me the better... but I made up my mind a few days ago when I asserted myself for the first time to my employer and benefactress that I would never again, as long as I lived, be afraid of anyone or anything. Because I think fear is demoralizing. It has made me — till now — the sort of person I can’t admire. And I won’t be criticized unjustly. I’ll take any criticism I deserve. But I am notsulky!’ He looked at her and burst out laughing again. Joanna said hotly, ‘And don’t laugh at me. I won’t have it. I’m deadly serious. You said you’d been glad to get on with your books in peace and quiet. Remember? So I was taking the hint, and you called me first unsociable then sulky.’ He gasped, ‘I’m sorry, truly I am. But you’re so funny. I’ve heard of people’s hair rising aggressively, but I’ve never seen it before. That top-lock — it positively bristles!’

Joanna wished she’d left her Alice-band on. She said, trying to sound dignified, ‘My hair is springy, and I’ve got a cow-lick there. Perhaps I’m developing a different personality. I hope so. I despise the sort of person I was before. I was so meek and mild I never even made an enemy. Think of it!’ He was still giving faint chuckles. ‘I just can’t imagine you as anything else than a belligerent youngster... just a ginger-headed, spunky kid. Here, get another cup and saucer and some more biscuits and don’t be so daft!’ Joanna grinned at him and went and got them. She sat down at right angles to him. ‘At least you’re never boring, Joanna,’ he said, fitting two cheese crackers together and biting into them. ‘If only the boys knew what a time I’m having. They’ll get the surprise of their lives when they get down. Now, look here. Let’s call a truce. I’m a blunt man, I know, but I don’t think I’m a rude one. You are a new chum to this sort of life and I know it, so don’t be so touchy about your lack of experience. And I’m not resenting you all the time. By gosh, no! When you coped so well with those nappies this morning, I was glad you had got stranded here. If it wasn’t for Christine’s stupid attitude, I’d not have worried in the first place.’ ‘You’re another shoulder to the wheel and if the men are marooned for any length of time, at least you’ll be someone to keep an eye on the youngsters. I’ve just got to be outside some of the time. However, the position being what

it is — rather an unusual one — I’d just as soon Christine didn’t know you were here if she doesn’t have to. I’d better explain. It’s very complicated. She—’ Joanna held up a hand and stopped him. He’d feel so embarrassed. ‘Matthew, please don’t. I feel I’m — well, I feel I don’t want to get too involved. I’d rather not know. Let’s leave it at that. You’ve said she’s got a hatred of scandal in any form. I wish I could just wave a wand and get myself over that river again, and out of your life. But I can’t. I can only hope she never gets to know and that it doesn’t upset anything for you. I can’t understand anyone in this day and age being like that — or being allowed to get away with it, but—’ He broke in, ‘I don’t want you to think of her as solely possessive and narrowminded. We who know her best admire and understand her. She’s reserved to a degree and finds it hard to show any emotion — due to years of keeping too tight a rein on herself. Perhaps she was as much the victim of circumstances as you were, Joanna. I’m sure you were not by nature a mouse — any more than Christine is really hard.’ Joanna had the grace to look ashamed. ‘I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn. If I’m not careful I’ll get the bit between my teeth and completely bolt. I’ll end up by not liking this new me any more than I liked the old me. I’m trying to assert myself and to speak my mind, and all I’m doing is being intolerant. After all, we’re all as life has shaped us.’

‘Are we?’ His tone was challenging but not contemptuous. ‘Your foster-mother tried to shape and mould you, it seems, but now the cream is coming to the top — the real you.’ He grinned. ‘I’m mixing metaphors horribly!’ She grinned back, all embarrassment and resentment gone. ‘What does it matter? You made your meaning plain and that’s what metaphors are for. Even if it might not be cream—’ she pulled a face ‘—but only scum!’ He gave her an approving slap on the back. ‘Good girl! A sense of humour will always get anyone through. We’ve got to be able to laugh at ourselves.’ She nodded. Wasn’t it odd? A little while ago she’d felt furious with this man. Now she felt freer with him than with anyone in her life before. She added: ‘I think I was pitying myself too much. I ought not to have done. Certainly Maria is overbearing, but I ought to have asserted myself long ago. I expect we are all apt to blame others for our own weaknesses. You know that line from Julius Caesar? “ — the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves”.’ She looked up with a slightly rueful expression, turned her palms outwards and upwards in a shrug, and caught a strange look in the vividly blue eyes. Their looks held for a moment, both sought for words, failed to find them. Joanna stood up, picked up the plate of biscuits, said, with a good attempt at lightness, ‘Goodness, haven’t we got in deep! I sound quite profound. I’ll just

put these away and go to bed. Are you going on with those figures much longer?’ ‘No, I’ll turn them in now. They aren’t making sense.’ They stood for a moment curiously irresolute. Then Matthew said crisply, ‘I’ll just let the cats out and then see if Michael is all right.’ Joanna said, ‘Can’t I see to him?’ He shook his head. ‘Not yet. He’s taken to you all right, but if he wakes in the night it might be different. To see a stranger. I’m always afraid he cries for his mother. But in a few days he’ll have accepted you completely.’ ‘Fair enough,’ she agreed, rinsing out the cups. Matthew put the cats out, then went to Michael’s room. Something struck her. He’d said ‘in a few days’. Then he was not expecting the river to subside very soon. The phone rang, nearly startling her out of her wits. She waited, thinking Matthew would come back to answer it, then decided she’d better do it herself, in case Michael, disturbed by Matthew going in, woke and cried. She lifted the receiver and said: ‘Heronscrag here.’ It was a few moments before a voice came through. She wasn’t surprised. Matthew had said that often, in this area, the lines were bad. Finally a voice said, ‘Hamilton calling you... it will be coming soon. Please hold the line.’

Good, Matthew would be back in a moment, to answer it. She wondered idly if Hamilton was the caller’s surname or Christian name. There were all sorts of cracklings and bangs, fade-outs and buzzings, then a voice said: ‘Heronscrag?’ The line was so bad that for a moment she could have taken the voice for a woman’s. She said, ‘Yes, Heronscrag here, did you want Mr. Greenwood?’ Sparks and sputterings, then a voice, definitely a woman’s, said, with a sharp note, ‘Yes, please, but first, who is that? Not Marguerite, I’m sure!’ Joanna said, ‘No, my name is Marlowe. Just a moment and I’ll call Mr. Greenwood.’ The voice said positively, ‘No, stay.’ Then, after another session of buzzing: ‘Who are you and what are you doing there?’ Despite the line, Joanna got that clearly, but played for time. ‘I’m sorry, this line is very bad. What did you say, please? Would you mind repeating it, or shall I call Mr. Greenwood now?’ ‘No, not yet. Ah, the line’s better now. I said who are you and what are you doing there?’ Joanna knew she’d have to answer without hesitation this time, so she said in a casual tone, ‘Oh, I’m helping Mrs. Tredington with the children,’ and looked up to see Matthew coming through the door.

She made a quick, urgent signal for him to take the receiver, heard the voice say, as she handed it over, ‘Why? Is Marguerite not well again?’ and was glad Matthew had the answering of it. Joanna hadn’t dared elaborate or explain because this might be Christine’s aunt or mother and Matthew wanted to get her away with Christine none the wiser. She wished now she’d gone and called him to take the ring. Probably she ought to go away now and leave him to take this call in privacy, but she hardly knew what she was doing. She leaned with both hands on the table and watched him intently. His first words petrified her. ‘Matt here... oh, hullo, Chris! How are you? And how’s the weather up your way? It’s a real stinker here and worse to come, according to the bulletin. Glad you rang tonight, because by tomorrow we could have the wires down again.’ Glad, he said, yet over the phone his eyes met Joanna’s and he pulled a face. He was stalling, she knew. Talking fast in order to think. He’d heard what she had said. She was sure she had done the wrong thing. Since Christine had caught them out, anyway, he’d probably much rather have had her say how she’d got here. Fancy that being Christine! How odd, she’d taken the voice for that of a much older woman. Must be the faulty line. You just couldn’t imagine that voice

belonging to a girl of the age of that slim dark girl in the pictures on Matthew’s wall... hung where he could see them, lying in bed. He paused, said, ‘What did you say, Chris? This line’s ghastly. Oh, I get it... who’s Miss Marlowe? Oh, she’s helping Marguerite with the children. Marguerite finds it a bit much coping with Michael and supervising the correspondence lessons.’ ‘Yes, I know it’s nearly the school holidays. No, she won’t be here after that. She’s an English girl on a working holiday. No, no chance at all of her staying on.’ He winked audaciously at Joanna. She ought to feel grateful he could see the funny side of it, but she couldn’t. This was horrible. Yet what else could he have done but carry on the fiction when once she herself had given that answer? Joanna put a hand to her head. He continued, dropping his voice, as if this English girl had just gone out of earshot, ‘Wouldn’t want her to stay on, really. Honestly, Chris, she’s the biggest dill you ever knew! Can’t even cook porridge. But she can supervise the kids’ lessons all right. Is a real martinet. What did you say, Chris?’ He listened, nodding sagely, then, his eyes raking Joanna from top to toe, and glinting mischievously, ‘Well, far from a pin-up girl. Got ginger hair with a cowlick... like a rooster’s tail it is, and has a very quick temper. I keep out of her way as much as possible. And she’s fat... very fat. And not really a girl at

all. But you know how it is, if they aren’t married you call ‘em girls. Pretty long in the tooth. Perhaps thirty-six, possibly more.’ Joanna gazed at him, horrified yet fascinated. She had a dreadful feeling that he was overdoing it. That somehow, some day, this would recoil on the head of the master of Heronscrag. Mercifully, however, it seemed to satisfy the possessive Christine and they went on to talk business. Wool prices... something about the air-strips, and a spot of business she was apparently going to attend to for him in Christchurch at the National Mortgage, what ever that might be. Sounded like a firm. How prosaic it all was. Joanna hoped for his own sake that Matthew would finish up with something more lover-like. That would do more to allay Christine’s fears than any over-exaggerated description of Miss Marlowe. The said Miss Marlowe devoutly hoped her own voice had sounded as mature as Miss Christine-whoever-she-was had sounded, to back up Matthew’s extension of her age. Suddenly she realized that he could hardly utter any endearments with a stranger standing by, especially one so patently agog as she was, and she hurried away to her bedroom. It was quite five minutes later when he tapped on her door. With a sinking heart she went to it. He’d flay her for saying the wrong thing!’ He said, ‘Oh, you aren’t undressed yet. Good, come along to the kitchen.’

She couldn’t think of a thing to say as she followed him. He stood in front of the range and looked at her, his hands behind his back. The cool, arrogant and time-honoured male stance. She said limply, ‘Oh, dear, I didn’t know what to say. It got me on the hop. I — I think I’ve got you in deep now, haven’t I? Only when she demanded who I was, I thought it would be fatal to say anything else. Oh, if only you’d been here and could have answered that phone! I never dreamed it might be your fiancée!’ He’d been rocking with his heels on the wooden kerb that edged the hearth and fell off the few inches, so that she instinctively put out a hand to steady him. He said, almost absently, ‘Oh, thanks. I’m always telling the kids not to rock on it. Anyway, not to worry. Chris is going to be in Hamilton a couple of weeks yet, and will have to stay in Christchurch for a few days on business. I did that pretty well, don’t you think?’ He surveyed her from the top of her head to her toes and back again. ‘She’s probably thinking your visual statistics are fortyfour — thirty-five — forty-six. Or am I hopelessly out, even for a fatty? I was very tempted to throw in buck teeth and a moustache, but I didn’t want to overdo.’ It was too much for Joanna. She’d expected a lecture and here he was — well, positively enjoying it. He was so different from the intense Shane. She said

warmly, ‘Not overdo! What makes you think you didn’t? You were simply outrageous. I only hope you disarmed her by — by — er—’ she came to a full stop. ‘Yes, Miss Marlowe?’ he inquired sweetly. ‘By what? Losing your fluency, aren’t you? You have to lose your temper to be really eloquent, don’t you? Would it help if I made you cross?’ She gritted her teeth noticeably. ‘I am cross. I’m so cross I’m — oh, what’s the use! Why should I be embarrassed by you? I hope you disarmed her by saying all manner of sweet nothings when I came to myself, stopped listening in and disappeared.’ ‘Oh, I did,’ he said promptly. ‘I told her all the things Chris would want most to hear. She’s a great birdwatcher... it’s her ruling passion... at present she’s studying the mating habits of the shining cuckoo. So I gave her all the details I’ve observed to date. It’s the surest way to Chris’s heart!’ His face was a study in solemnity. Then all of a sudden she felt laughter bubbling up, natural, overwhelming laughter, not the cool amusement that had passed for it in her circle. ‘You — you chump!’ she said, between giggles. ‘I may be green, but I’m not that green. I saw those pictures on the schoolroom walls today... I’m sure the shining cuckoo is a migratory bird... and it’s not exactly the mating season, is it?’

‘Much, much better,’ said this astonishingly different Matthew Greenwood. ‘Always look for the funny side. We can’t do a darned thing about this situation, stuck here together as we are. I’ve fobbed Chris off — aided and abetted by you, who really triggered things off. Oh, darn, I’m getting my metaphors mixed again. You’re a great girl for mixing me up! I’ve fobbed her off — she won’t be back in the South Island for weeks, and I refuse to worry about it. It’s a lot of nonsense anyway. Don’t for heaven’s sake lose any sleep over it. I’d rather none of it had happened, naturally, but it did, so we’ll meet any reactions when and if they come. ‘Now, we had short rations of sleep last night. For Pete’s sake let’s get off to bed right now and hold no more post-mortems. I think I can handle Christine... even if you aren’t fat and forty and a martinet!’ Joanna did sleep, because it had been a long and full day. But she couldn’t dispel a strange certainty. She didn’t blame Matthew Greenwood one bit for saying he wished none of it had happened. But while she herself regretted that she had caused him trouble, and might yet cause him more, for herself she really wasn’t sorry it had happened to her. She wouldn’t face up to the reason why. She told herself as she slipped over the edge of slumber on billowing clouds of restoring sleep that she must have a lot of Uncle Henry in her... a love of the mountains, of the solitary places. Heronscrag must have cast a spell upon her. Yes, that must be it. It couldn’t he, mustn’t be, anything else.

CHAPTER SIX SHE was surprised when she woke to find the weight of her misgivings over the telephone conversation much diminished. Perhaps it was because so many domestic problems immediately engulfed her, or the effect of the bracing mountain air. The storm wasn’t upon them yet, anyway. The weather forecasters must be quite depressed about that. The air was like wine, tingling one’s toes and fingers, the sky was as blue as summer, the mountain tops as clear and purely white as if they had been cut out of white cardboard for a nursery frieze. The children’s spirits were high too, too high perhaps; Joanna found herself thinking, ‘Laugh before seven, cry before eleven.’ That was a horrible saying, one of Maria’s that she had hated so as a child. It had been used many a time to squash a very small Joanna, who had disturbed Maria’s sleep. There were some mornings when for no reason at all you felt an ecstasy that had nothing to do with the physical, but with the spirit. A certain magic, when you wanted to go about with your hands in your pockets, whistling, not caring about mud on your immaculately tailored slacks, kicking at stones and being happy as happy simply because you were alive and very young.

Maria always set you to something that would dim your high spirits... arranging flowers, setting endless stitches in tapestry chair tops, or taking that horrid, wheezy little pug for a walk. She had no time to brood on such things. Matthew said, ‘I reckon the men will be down to Number One Hut tonight and down to the homestead tomorrow, if the weather people keep on being wrong — which they aren’t often.’ Joanna hoped passionately that the storm would hold off till she could get away and bring no embarrassment to this fair, brown man. His Christine need never know her age, her statistics then! She supposed the men would know what Christine was, and keep their own counsel about her. And Lance Tredington would come home as soon as his exams were over, and who knows, perhaps he’d remove the children before Christine paid them another visit. She wondered if the men would be glad to see her there, feeling a woman about the place might let them off a few household chores. Though that was ludicrous. Probably every man jack of them had been brought up to cook plain meals and sew their own buttons on. Matthew had appreciated her help yesterday simply because he’d been quite on his own. But he’d been really glad about the nappies. She grinned to herself... she doubted if he’d get a volunteer among his shepherds for that job!

‘What are you smiling at?’ asked Matthew curiously, as he flung cutlery on the table. Joanna gave an impish grin. ‘There are some things not good for men to know,’ she said saucily, and tied Michael’s feeder on. She added, after a moment, ‘Then if the men can cross the river, so can we, I suppose? If they get over tomorrow, will you be able to take me out as soon as they arrive?’ His answer was prompt. ‘Not a show. The Awatipua always goes down first. And in any case, didn’t I tell you? — it’s one thing to take horses through, after a flood, but not the truck. And even then we’ll have to wait till the bottom settles. And you still have to get that hired car through. It will have to be low for us to do that.’ Joanna was silenced. The telephone bell rang. Her secretarial training made her automatically reach out a hand to it, as Matthew was farther away, but she drew back immediately as if stung, and said to him meaningly, ‘I think you’d better take that.’ ‘I’ll say,’ he said, and got out of his chair. She listened apprehensively, sure it would be Christine again... a Christine who might have pondered all night on a voice that hadn’t sounded thirty-six and fat! His first words reassured her. ‘Oh, hello, Morwyn. How’s your river? Is it? So’s ours. What did you say? Oh, no, thanks, we’re quite all right and well stocked

up. No need at all... Oh, are you? Splendid. And Ruihi will call in and see Marguerite? Yes, I’ve rung three times a day and she’s doing fine. Morwyn, remind Ruihi not to mention Brownie was called up north, won’t you? We’re managing fine... eh?... Oh, sure, I’d certainly do that if we needed you, but honestly all is under control. Well, thanks for the offer — for both offers in fact, but we’re fine. Besides, you’ll need all your hours of daylight. And I’d be awfully glad to know you’d got in to see Marguerite. Right. Thanks a lot. Cheerio.’ Philippa’s eyes were like stars. ‘Is Aunt Lucy going to see Mum? And she’ll ring us later to tell us how she is? Oh—’ she turned away swiftly to hide the sudden glimmer of tears in her eyes. Matthew came in quickly, ‘Yes, aren’t we lucky — much better than just ringing the hospital. Lucy will tell us just how she’s looking.’ He saw a puzzled look on Joanna’s face and interpreted it. ‘Ruihi is the Maori name for Lucy. She gets both. She’s married to Morwyn Richards at Four Peaks. Marvellous on skis. Used to be an instructress at ChateauTongariro in the North Island. Morwyn has a plane of his own. He’s an expert pilot, often takes a flip to Timaru or Christchurch.’ Toby, his mouth full of his last piece of toast said, with difficulty, ‘Matt, if Morwyn wanted—’ He got no further. His cousin’s large hand had covered his mouth. ‘That’ll be quite enough, Toby. I will not have your mother coming

back to find your manners quite ruined. I’ll be blamed if they are. Finish what you’ve got in your mouth, then scram. Have a wash and do your teeth — and no just wetting the brush, either — after all, I was a small boy myself once — and then straight into the schoolroom. I’m giving you three hours, then I’ll let you help me feed out. It will give you some sun too.’ Toby slid off his seat, swallowed three times and turned at the door. His voice sounded grieved. ‘What’s the matter? You used to be more fun! I was only going to ask why couldn’t Morwyn—’ His cousin rose and moved threateningly, saying, ‘You’ll get more than you want if you keep on like that,’ and Toby, with a speed born, no doubt, of practice, whisked his small self out of the door bathroomwards. Matthew turned back and said to Philippa, ‘And you needn’t follow that one up, either, Philippa. The pair of you are expert at delaying tactics. What I said to Morwyn was grown-up business. With Joanna here to keep an eye on Michael, I aim to catch up on last week’s lessons this morning. Teeth for you now too!’ Decidedly sharp with the children, this morning, thought Joanna. She wondered why. She dared not say anything. She knew — by instinct rather than experience — that it wasn’t wise to intervene with children present, but if she could save the children from having the vials of their cousin’s wrath fall

upon them, she would, and if she went along and supervised this teethbrushing and neck-washing, it would save time and stop tempers fraying. As she put her hand on the bathroom door, she heard Philippa say to Toby, ‘For heaven’s sake don’t ask him again, Toby, but why d’you suppose Matt didn’t want Morwyn to fly in here?’ Joanna hesitated. She didn’t want to embarrass the children, and, to be quite frank, she wanted to hear what solution they would arrive at. Toby said, ‘I dunno. He could have taken us down to see Mum, too. I’m mad at him. We could’ve done an extra day’s work in the holidays.’ There were airstrips here, of course. All these big sheep-stations had them now for emergencies. Of course in an area like this flying conditions wouldn’t always — or often — be suitable, but today was perfect. Joanna had flown with Maria all over the Continent and the States and was fairly sure of that. In fact, if Morwyn Richards was flying out, it must be. Philippa’s composed little voice came through her thoughts. ‘Oh, I know. If Morwyn flew in, Matt’d have to ask them to take Joanna out. He could easy take that car into Fairlie for her when he could get it across again. That’ll be it. Because of the nappies. He hates washing them, you know,’ and they both giggled. Joanna, standing with her hand on the door-knob, didn’t giggle. No, that wasn’t the reason. No matter how the master of Heronscrag hated washing

nappies, he wouldn’t set that against the awkwardness of having a strange girl under his bachelor roof. She didn’t want to ill-judge this complex-ridden Christine, but she thought that in pandering to her possessiveness and jealousy, even if the blame for that lay in her childhood, he was laying up trouble for himself. It was only too clear to Joanna why Matthew hadn’t wanted Morwyn and Lucy Richards to fly in. Because they’d find her here and he wouldn’t want them to tell Christine. It was significant that he hadn’t mentioned her to them. No, he was still hoping that the river would subside and he would be able to get her — and her car, which would be a giveaway if left here for any length of time — across the Waimihi and out to civilization and obscurity again, without any of the other homesteads here being any the wiser. She opened the door and went in. ‘I thought I’d just make sure you were making a good job of this. I think it will be nice for your cousin if you get into the schoolroom promptly this morning. He’s trying to keep up with things for you. And I think the jobs are piling up outside. I’ll offer to superintend some of the lessons. I can take Michael’s playpen in there. Give me that face-cloth, Toby, and I’ll just give your ears an extra good going-over. It would save a lot of trouble, darling, if you did them properly from the start. You’ll never get away with it, you know.’ Toby grinned and submitted.

By the time Joanna had persuaded Matthew she could manage in the schoolroom and he’d managed to get caught up with the outside work, he was considerably mellowed when he came in at eleven for a cup of tea, and rather deflatingly surprised that she had also managed to slip out and put Michael down. ‘That was the one time that kid beat me,’ he admitted. ‘He goes down like a lamb every morning when Marguerite is here, but I’d hear him performing for half an hour after I put him to bed, and it was taking my mind off the lessons.’ ‘I think,’ said Joanna solemnly, ‘that it must be a built-in instinct peculiar to women,’ and laughed. But she felt a glow of pleasure even if it was probably only that the baby had been extra sleepy this morning. ‘You’re coming out too, now,’ ordered Matthew. ‘Get all the sun you can during the short daylight hours.’ Joanna shook her head. ‘No, I wouldn’t dream of leaving the baby alone — even if I’d be quite near the house. Besides, there’s the dinner to get and I’m so horribly slow. And with going into the schoolroom, I’ve not made the beds.’ He could not make her change her mind. She still felt humiliated that Matthew had had to put the meat in the oven. She had watched carefully as he got a leg of mutton out of the fridge, knifed a lot of dripping over it and casually popped it in the oven. She’d said, hating her ignorance, ‘And what do I keep doing to it?’

She knew he subdued a grin. He’d said gravely, ‘Not a thing. Years ago they had to do a lot of basting, but with this modern sort of roasting-pan... see, with a lid that has dimples all over it, you don’t have to.’ ‘Oh,’ said Joanna vaguely, looking at the dimples and wondering how they could obviate this basting, whatever it was. But she had scowled when he’d said, ‘Look, I’ll see to it. Don’t worry. When it’s time to serve it I’ll make the gravy. You just do the vegetables. I brought in some swede turnip and carrots. You can put carrots and potatoes round the meat about an hour or a little more before dinner-time, and for goodness’ sake don’t scald yourself with the boiling fat. You can boil the turnips. And don’t bother with a pudding. No one could do that and look after lessons too. Just have preserved fruit and cornflakes and cream.’ Joanna said, ‘In those instructions about roasting meat, it said, twenty minutes per pound and twenty minutes over. What does that mean?’ ‘Search me. I haven’t weighed that joint. It sounds a bit like putting one teaspoon of tea per person into the teapot and one over for the pot. Ever heard that? Makes it far too strong. If that joint is overdone or underdone, the blame is mine. I usually put a good big one in about nine and serve it at twelve-thirty. It’s not like timing grilled steak.’ While she was in the schoolroom she’d surreptitiously looked up ‘basting’ and found it meant: ‘To drop fat or butter over, as in roasting.’ How very peculiar.

Surely you didn’t have to keep on doing that? What a good thing those dimples did it for you these days! Wasn’t it amazing how much you could get done while the children were outside? Joanna looked up the instructions she had found that first night and found by putting the roasting pan on top of the stove for a few moments, it quickly came back to the boil after she had put the vegetables in. Such a small thing, yet she felt it a real achievement. As good as passing her final exam in German. She scorned the cornflakes and by studying instructions on a huge tin of custard powder, managed to make one, though it went a bit lumpy when she left it for just a moment. But the others weren’t back yet, and she strained the lumps out and put them in the pig bucket under the peelings! So she didn’t feel too bad when Matthew came in and made the gravy. She watched him closely and felt she could manage it next time. She said, ‘If you’d written that down, I could have managed, I think, Matthew.’ He smiled at her. ‘I knew that, but it’s a heavy thing to lift when you aren’t used to it, and I was terrified you might tip the fat over your feet when you were pouring it off.’

Joanna experienced yet another sensation, sudden and not unpleasant. He hadn’t refrained because he thought her an absolute duffer. It had been a chivalrous thought. She said crisply, ‘Oh, that’s good, then. By the way, I didn’t have time for the nappies this morning, but I’ll do them straight after dinner.’ Not even the fact that she had left the salt out of the turnips diminished her pleasure. ‘All cooks do that now and then,’ said Matthew.

By nightfall there was a light visible away up the valley. That meant the men were there. They had heard a shot earlier in the afternoon when they were all outside, Michael included. Matthew had said the men were probably sick of tinned tucker and had gone after venison. ‘How do you cook that?’ asked Joanna anxiously. He’d burst out laughing. ‘Just like steak, don’t worry, girl.’ Later that night he went to an uncurtained window at the end of the porch beyond the schoolroom and did things with a torch and cardboard in Morse code. Fascinated, Joanna watched him, tried to guess at what it all meant and saw him writing letters down. Then he turned to her. ‘The river’s not too bad in the valley. Come morning, if we have no sudden storm, they’ll be over.’

Joanna swallowed. ‘And then you’ll have to explain me. What will they say? Will you swear them to secrecy? Or—’ hopefully — ‘will you take a chance on Christine understanding? I mean in country like this, anything can happen.’ His eyes met hers. ‘It does have a cock-and-bull flavour to say a greenhorn ventured across that treacherous-looking river-bed. I understand why you did it — now — that you were trying to prove something to yourself, Joanna. Trying to prove you weren’t scared any more — of elements or people — but Christine would never understand that.’ Joanna said hotly: ‘I don’t see why not. After all, if she can have her complexes, I can have mine!’ He laughed, ‘Your crest is rising again!’ ‘That’s sheer imagination!’ said Joanna indignantly, nevertheless smoothing her forelock. ‘And don’t evade the issue — if she can—’ He nodded, becoming more grave. ‘Yes, you are entitled to yours. But though I may be doing her an injustice, I very much doubt if Christine could or would see your point of view. She’s always been knowledgeable about this sort of country — seems to have a sort of built-in instinct about weather hazards, and would never believe anyone would attempt such a thing in an ordinary car. Not even if she knew they’d come from overseas. To you, it was a stretch of shingle with a track leading through tiny streams. She would think you ought to have realized that a river-bed like that could only have been

gouged out by mighty waters, and that close to the water-shed like this, you ought to have known that floods could rise in an hour or so.’ ‘Well, I think it’s ridiculous. I’m sorry to speak about your fiancée like this, Matthew, but I just can’t understand it. In London, when we get people from over here we warn them about traffic hazards which may be new to them. We don’t let them just find it out, or expect them to know it by instinct.’ He nodded. ‘Yes, I remember how careful everyone was to point those things out.’ She blinked. ‘You remember? You mean—?’ ‘I mean I was there. On a Federated Farmer’s tour. Christine insisted I have that.’ Joanna felt her lips tighten. Christine insisted! You’d think he’d be too embarrassed to admit being under her thumb before they were even married. He grinned again and she was sure he was reading her thoughts. She could have hit him. ‘A nice sort of insistence, Joanna. She footed the bill. And it has been of incalculable value since. We were able to see all kinds of mountain farming. Got a few ideas I’ve been able to put into practice I’d not have thought of otherwise — even though European high-country farming is more pocket-sized and so much more closely settled. I dream of ages ahead when

all this—’ he waved a comprehensive arm — ‘will be producing as it ought to be producing, and supporting thousands of people.’ Joanna didn’t pay much attention to his latter remarks. So Christine had footed the bill. She had money. Then was that why Matthew put up with — she clamped down on that ugly thought. She didn’t want to think that Matthew Greenwood had allowed himself to love where money was. But no wonder he wasn’t happy about his stranded guest. Because she who paid the piper called the tune. He didn’t notice her expression. ‘I’ll show you my slides tonight. Of my trip to England. Or will they make you homesick?’ Joanna said cautiously, ‘Possibly. Because London somehow gets you. It’s the hub of the universe. I longed to get away from the sort of life I was leading. But I loved London.’ He nodded. ‘Not like this — away out on the rim of the world.’ She didn’t reply to that, though she had a vague feeling he was expecting her to answer. She was grateful that they spent that evening with the slides. Better than too much personal conversation. When Matthew knew he was not boring her, that she wanted to go on looking, he showed her all his European ones too, with Joanna exclaiming over every familiar place.

She didn’t realize how much of her background she was giving away. How it was always the plushest of hotels where she had stayed, the most luxurious of winter or summer resorts. She could not know that he was thinking that even if she had kicked against the way her foster-mother had ordered her life, it had certainly been in the lap of luxury. Could a girl come through that sort of pampering and lavishing entirely unspoiled? Certainly she had been a brick the way she had buckled into things here, but wasn’t that just due to novelty? Something that would soon wear off? Anyway, she would soon be gone. An experience like this might easily make her more contented with the life she had always led. He wondered just what her foster-mother did? Perhaps she was managing director — or even the guiding genius — behind some huge concern? Perfumery, or fashion, or some such thing. Such folk often came out to New Zealand for a complete break, far from the centre of their activities. But he didn’t ask. Joanna was happy tonight. He wouldn’t recall for her, the old feelings of rebellion. Joanna, somehow touched a little by the fact that this man, in the splendid isolation of his territory, still knew the places she knew, went to bed relaxed and carefree, not even worrying about the fact that tomorrow they would have an influx of mouths to feed.

They didn’t get in till nearly sundown. It seemed so strange after having no one but themselves about, to see horses winding down the valley from the Awatipua, four horses because one was a pack-horse, and three riders and their dogs. Matthew took one look at Joanna’s face, a little strained as she watched from the kitchen window, and said, ‘Right, now we’ll sally forth to meet them.’ She stirred nervously. ‘Hadn’t you better — I mean won’t they be surprised and puzzled to see me? Hadn’t you better explain to them before they meet me?’ His brows twitched together. ‘I’ve no intention of giving the impression that you’re a guilty secret. Aren’t you supposed to accuse yourself when you excuse yourself? It’s not the men who worry me. Come on!’ Joanna grabbed a parka belonging to Marguerite and tied it round her. Matthew reported that Michael was sleeping like a top, then they went along to the schoolroom door where the children were doing set tasks and he said, ‘Right, you can finish that tomorrow. Here they come.’ Matthew’s own dogs set up a tremendous barking as the others approached — Joanna knew by now that each man had his own team — and somehow the noise of the arrival made it a little easier. Two of the men were younger than Matthew, she thought, in their midtwenties, and one was decidedly older, quite grizzled and thick-set.

Their surprise was almost comical. They had the air of not quite believing their eyes. One of the younger ones said: ‘Ye gods, Flynn! What did you put in our coffee? A tot of rum? I thought from afar off that Brownie had gone on a slimming diet, but that’s about as probable as if she’d taken off for the moon — she doesn’t hold with such things. Say, Matt, I thought you’d have been cut off. How come we’ve got visitors? Don’t tell me the thaw didn’t affect the Waimihi?’ Matthew was rather nonchalant. ‘No — Miss Marlowe is stranded here. She lost her way, began to cross the river to the homestead — you know how low it was — stopped to take photos and have a cup of tea, and the melted snow beat her to it. She couldn’t get back. I saw her and got her over. She’s been a godsend really. Brownie got called to Auckland. Her brother Douglas died. It was an hour after you chaps left or I’d not have let you all go. I’d have been tied to the house but for Miss Marlowe. She’s a wizard at washing nappies even if she had never cooked in her life before.’ The older man, swinging down from the saddle, said: ‘You certainly were born lucky, Matt.’ He paused and said dryly, ‘And Chris safely up north, too.’ Joanna saw the dull colour rise above Matt’s collar. How odd... he hadn’t minded mentioning to Joanna that Chris had this complex. Though he’d

probably got jolted into that in the first place when he’d been so furious with her. Oh well, perhaps no man liked other men knowing he had to dance to a woman’s piping. Flynn was dark with blue eyes and a slight Irish lilt to his tongue. Joanna guessed he was Kiwi-born all right, but of Irish ancestry. Bill was red-headed and had an irrepressible look. Hew Richards, the grizzled one, seemed to be a relation of the folk at Four Peaks, but apparently spent most of his time at Heronscrag. Much of the ensuing conversation was above Joanna’s head, though she listened to it avidly, trying to patch up the holes in her knowledge of this life, and glad that the talk had got away from the too personal. Everyone seemed to talk at once, including the two children, but nobody seemed to mind. It was just like being a member of a large family, with not too much spotlight on anyone. Not like living with Maria, where the talk and the interest and the action always centred on her. They had some venison with them and a deerskin, from a red deer, the sight of which made Joanna feel a little queasy, and eidelweiss which enchanted her and brought back memories of sophisticated holidays in Switzerland and Austria.

The talk lost her at times... hoggets, two-tooths, wethers, ewes, rams, blackleg, keas attacking, blood-poisoning setting in, inoculation, snow fences, shingle faces, hay feeders and the need for spreading nuts. Nuts? Oh, apparently some sort of manufactured feed. She felt a burning desire to know all about these things, to be able if not to talk about them, at least to look knowledgeable, but she never would. This would be just a brief interlude — one the others would thankfully forget when she was gone. One she herself would never forget. The talking continued right through the meal. The men praised her soup, though Joanna had done it under Matthew’s instruction. She got the gist of the conversation only in snatches, for she was very occupied at times trying to keep Michael happy, clean, and fed. Earlier she had put in a huge casserole and was gratified to find the men doing full justice to it. But then you really couldn’t go far wrong with one of those. You just threw in everything possible and left it. And by following a recipe book implicitly and putting them in one of the ovens with a prayer, she had produced some amazingly good baked apples stuffed with dates and spice and brown sugar. Thick cream made it a delectable dish. Joanna had had no idea till she was cast away up here what a terrific lot of worrying went into a meal.

It was amazing how often Christine’s name cropped up, even in Hew’s conversation. The others were great talkers, but he mostly just threw in a word here and there, often a disapproving one, like, ‘Chris wouldn’t like that idea’, and ‘Chris isn’t too sure that will be a paying proposition’. She was immensely cheered when Matthew said once, rather shortly, ‘Well, she’ll just have to lump it. Time she took on a few new ideas, anyway.’ With so many dishes, they did them in the machine, then when Michael was tucked in, Joanna said to the men, ‘I’ve promised to tell the children a story. Toby’s going to pop into Philippa’s bed to hear it too. I’ll leave you men to yarn to your hearts’ content.’ She hadn’t meant to ask the children anything about Christine, but the question popped out of her. ‘This Christine — what’s her name? Her surname, I mean.’ They both answered at once. ‘Mrs. Dunmuirson.’ Joanna was completely surprised. ‘Mrs. Dunmuirson? You — you mean she’s a widow? I hadn’t realized.’ Philippa, one breath ahead of Toby, said, ‘Yes, he died. He had T.B., whatever that means. They thought this mountain air might cure him, but it was too late.’ Joanna swallowed. ‘You mean he lived up here on Heronscrag?’

They nodded. ‘Yes, he owned it, you see. He bought it. Invested money in it. Matt says he was always delicate. Had pots of money, though.’ They were rambling on, adding details, but Joanna scarcely heard. The picture was fitting together. There was something she very badly wanted to know and she’d rather ask the children than Matthew. ‘Does Mrs. Dunmuirson still own Heronscrag? Is Matthew her manager?’ ‘Not really,’ said Philippa gravely, enjoying being able to impart information to a grown-up. ‘He came up here as her manager. She decided to sell out to him. Matt always says only about ten per cent of the estate belongs to him. He had a small farm down country, so he sold that, putting the money down as a — as a — what do you call it?’ ‘Deposit,’ said Joanna. ‘Deposit. Aunt Chris holds the um — mortgage, but of course it will be all Matt’s some day.’ Well, that was about it. Naturally, when he was her husband, he’d own the lot. And there was no need whatever for Joanna Marlowe to suddenly feel so depressed about it. What on earth had it to do with her? Really, the sooner she was over the river and back in England in her own little environment, however much she hated it, the better for everyone.

CHAPTER SEVEN WHEN the children were satisfied with story-telling and tucked down, Joanna came back into the kitchen. She wondered if it might be the last time she’d ever tuck them down. A pang tore through her at the thought that she might never see them again. That must be why she had that sudden, unworthy wish that the river might stay high a little longer. That was all it could be. She got into the kitchen to see the four men listening in to the weather forecast and their faces were grave. At least all but Matthew’s. His was unreadable. Joanna knew better than to distract their attention. She slipped on to a wooden form just inside the door. A storm of considerable force was sweeping up from the Far South... gale force winds... and Invercargill and Bluff were already blanketed with snow. In Fiordland rivers were rising and roads blocked. There had been two landslides of a minor nature. In Southland stock losses had already been reported and more expected. Motorists were advised to use chains on the motorway. Similar conditions were expected to reach South Canterbury by daybreak.

The announcer added lightly, ‘The only people likely to be pleased are the ski-enthusiasts. A fall as late as this promises a prolonged season and conditions ought to be ideal for snow-sports for the school holidays.’ ‘Damn the skiers!’ said Flynn, leaning forward in his chair and filling his pipe. ‘They haven’t got to be out snow-raking for sheep.’ Joanna knew what he meant because Matthew and the children had explained it to her. In a heavy fall, the sheep got buried and the men had to be out from daylight till dark looking for them, tracing them by the holes their breathing made in the snow. Some were never found till the thaw set in, when their waterlogged carcases would be swept down the gullies into the rivers and lakes, or left lying, making a problem for disposal. The men went out on skis or snowshoes looking for them and moving them whenever possible to so-called sunny faces which, in a heavy fall, were no more than parts less thickly covered with snow, where the sun would thaw first and release tussock and snow-grass for their grazing. Hew switched off the set. Matthew got up. ‘I’ll ring the hospital right away, to find out the latest news about Marguerite and to get them to give her a message that we may be snowed in, but that we’re all well. Thank heaven she doesn’t know Brownie isn’t here.’ He didn’t mention to the men that Ruihi and Morwyn had been down to Timaru yesterday and had rung, on their return, to say Marguerite was

looking very well and recovering quickly. But of course he might not want to say too much to his men. They might think he ought to have got Joanna out then and risked Christine hearing about it later from the folk at Four Peaks. When he’d finished his call, he leaned over and said in a casual tone, ‘I think you’d better ring your employer, Joanna, and tell her where you are.’ She looked puzzled. ‘But why? I have three weeks in which to do exactly as I like. She won’t be worried about me till then.’ He said, ‘We’re often cut off for three weeks or so by medium snowfalls. It could be longer this time — this sounds like an old man blizzard such as we get only rarely. Even after the thaw sets in and the snow around here is gone, the river will be bank-to-bank for ages — as the snow up higher melts. The landing strips will be hopelessly bogged and take some drying out. It may not be as bad as they predict, but we must let your employer know in case it is.’ Joanna said, ‘But if we get cut off, couldn’t I just ring her when she expects me back?’ He shook his head. ‘Tonight at least we have a phone — our one link with the outside world. Lesser storms have brought wires down before now. I think you must.’ Joanna still knew a strange reluctance. She could scarcely understand it herself. Perhaps it was just that she’d wanted to keep this interlude secret from Shane and Maria. Something they would never need to know...

something she could cherish like a dream, her very own. Of a time she had spent in another world, a world of mountains and rivers and enchanted solitude, beyond even a road. Something so different from anything she had known in her whole artificial, glittering life. A world where she had chipped her finger-nails, burnt and cut her fingers, had performed the most plebeian of tasks, had wrestled, shamed by her ignorance, with the terrifying pitfalls of cooking, had known the sweetness of goodnight kisses from children, gratitude in a man’s eyes over a line of washing blowing in the mountain winds.... But of course he was right. He sensed her yielding reluctance, held her brown eyes with his blue ones. ‘You wouldn’t want the publicity of having your employer contact the police and perhaps put out TV and radio appeals for information about your whereabouts, would you, Joanna?’ She got the message. Publicity wouldn’t worry Maria a scrap, she thrived on it, but publicity would be disastrous for him. She said crisply, ‘Of course. I’ll ring her right away. How do I go about it? I know the name of the people she is staying with on Cashmere Hills. Would the exchange look up the number for me?’ ‘I’ll get it for you,’ said Matthew, ‘What’s the name and address?’ Joanna went along for her address book and handed it to him, open. He looked surprised. ‘Oscar Mikkelson? Is that who she’s staying with?’

‘Yes, do you know him?’ Matthew laughed. ‘Well, not to say know. Everyone in New Zealand knows of him, of course. I was present at a recital he gave at the Dunedin Town Hall two years ago. But I thought he was in England at the moment.’ Joanna shook her head. ‘He pays a visit back here almost every year. When the season finishes over there. My employer knows him well.’ He got the exchange but was told there would be a half-hour delay, so he used the time ringing round the other stations for a last-minute chat in case they were cut off. He was talking to Charles Beaudonais-Smith when he was interrupted by the exchange to say his call was coming through. Joanna hoped that only the Mikkelsons’ maid would be in, that she wouldn’t have to speak to Maria. But Oscar Mikkelson himself answered the phone and was delighted to hear Joanna’s voice, but most surprised to hear her whereabouts. ‘Well, really, my dear, aren’t you having fun? I’d never have thought you had it in you. It’s okay, I’m not dropping any clangers, Maria is in the studio with my wife, listening to records. Bully for you! Maria was furious when she arrived but is cooling down now. I told her it was a wonder you hadn’t kicked over the traces before. Even though she wasn’t bringing you here she still likes having you at her beck and call at the end of a telephone line. Which was what it would have amounted to if you’d come to Christchurch. You deserve

a break and from what you say, you’re certainly having it. Jolly good thing if you do get cut off. I can’t think of anything I’d rather have happen to me. Perhaps I could come up some time and try for the same conditions. Sounds like heaven... with snowsports thrown in. Right, I’ll get Maria. She’s in great form. This mood has lasted longer than I’ve ever known it — when she’s like this I forgive her all her tantrums.’ Joanna said softly, ‘Yes, Oscar, but don’t forget, your Cecilia has a wonderful effect on Maria.’ He laughed, admitted that was true and that as far as that went, his Cecilia had a wonderful effect on even himself, and went to get Maria. Joanna tried to give as little away as possible about the true situation at Heronscrag and was acutely aware of her audience of four. She knew that from the very fact that she had been speaking to a musician of world-wide fame, they were very interested. It was extremely difficult conveying just so much to Maria yet not blatantly sounding evasive to this audience. She managed reasonably well, she thought, though she felt intensely irritated with Matthew that he hadn’t told her to take it in the room he dignified by the name of the station office. ‘Oh, Maria? Did Oscar tell you I’m stranded in a remote homestead? How did I get here in the first place? Well, I got my car stuck in the river I was trying to ford. The owner of this place got me out, but it had to be on the other side

and the snows here melted and rose the river — it’s very close to the Alps. Yes, very stupid of me... Well, I expect I am being a nuisance, just as you say, but I’m helping with the children of the homestead. Now this is just to say that although we hope it won’t happen, there are warnings that a Grade A storm is about to descend upon this area and it’s just possible we may be completely isolated for a while. No, just a moment, Maria... it’s not possible for me to get out tonight. You can’t imagine what it’s like here. The river is still impassable and likely to rise again. We could be cut off from civilization for three weeks or so. That’s why Mr. Greenwood thought I ought to ring you, while the telephone is still working.’ ‘It seems to be a freak storm. You could switch the late news on. You see when the thaw sets in, the rivers rise again. Then, as floods scour out the shingle of the river-beds, you often have to wait for the river-grader to come up to make a new crossing, as often huge holes and quicksands are left.’ ‘... No, Maria, there are no bridges over these rivers. The two rivers that are the boundaries of this station feed into Kotuku. There are no roads and no bridges, from their sources in the Alps to their entry into the lake. The fords, too, are very different from those little tuppence-halfpenny ones we saw up at Queenstown. No, Maria, I hope not to cause you any inconvenience, but there isn’t one thing I can do about it. You just can’t, against the elements.’ ‘... Well, even if it did come to that, that I couldn’t join you in time — though I hardly think it will last as long as that — I could always fly to Australia to join

you for the trip home.’ Joanna hesitated, then added, interrupting Maria’s flow of protest and scolding, ‘Besides, I thought you might just have wanted to engage another secretary by now. Are you sure you’d rather not do that? Perhaps back home? Shane’s quite capable of answering all your fan mail till then, you know, and he’d not have much to do on board save that. In fact, I often think he does that job better than I do. He’s more flowery, more eloquent. I’m so matter-of-fact. I wouldn’t mind at all, having a year in New Zealand, taking temporary jobs here and there. I’d refund you my passage money.’ After that, she let Maria have a long say and she certainly took full advantage of it, though strangely enough, Maria didn’t berate her so much as plead with her. Joanna knew she would never be afraid of her again. Had the mountains done that for her, in this short time? Finally she said, ‘Well, none of this may happen. It was just in case. Matthew Greenwood didn’t want to risk you getting panicky about me if I didn’t turn up. The snow may not lie, the wires may not come down and—’ Maria interrupted her. ‘Matthew, who is Matthew? Someone you’re on Christian name terms with already?’ Joanna laughed and said lightly, ‘Oh, Maria, you don’t stand on ceremony in the outback.’ ‘Who is he, Joanna?’

‘The station owner.’ ‘Are you helping his wife with these children?’ Joanna swallowed. Bother Maria! What was she being so persistent for? Well, she dared not appear evasive, Maria was as shrewd as they come. She said, trying to sound easy, ‘No, the children are his cousin’s children. He’s a sort of uncle. I help with their correspondence lessons. It’s all I can do to repay them for rescuing me and putting up with me under these conditions. But I must go. I’ll keep in touch if the wires stay up. Mr. Greenwood was right in the middle of speaking to one of the other station owners when your call came through. He’ll want to get back on to it.’ Maria was very firm. ‘I want to know one thing, Joanna. Is this Matthew a single man?’ Although Joanna knew the four men could not hear Maria’s conversation because she had the receiver pressed very closely to her ear, she felt her face flushing and turned away to hide it. She said evenly, however, ‘Yes, so are the other three men — the shepherds. They’re just back in from a gruelling day’s ride, Maria, and they want some supper now before turning in. I must go. I’ll see you in Christchurch, I hope. If not, Wellington, or, at the latest, in Sydney en route for home. Night-night, Maria,’ and thankfully she replaced the phone before Maria could probe further.

The four men regarded her with startled expressions. Flynn broke the awed silence. ‘You’re not after telling us you’re secretary to Maria Delahunt, the TV star? Our favourite TV star at that?’ Joanna smiled a little. ‘Yes, I am.’ Flynn whistled. ‘And why did you hold out on us, then? Didn’t you know we’d be all agog to hear about her?’ Joanna said, ‘I didn’t realize you’d know her. Not back here in the Alps, with no television.’ Flynn’s eyes were audacious. ‘Hark at her... it’s heathen she thinks we are! Don’t we have holidays? Don’t we have our own folk in places more civilized by far than this? This really is something. Wait till I write and tell my mother. She’s an absolute fan of Maria Delahunt’s. Imagine being able to tell her that Maria’s secretary had soup and steak ready for us when we came back down from the huts! Boss, why didn’t you tell us who Miss Marlowe was?’ Matthew Greenwood was busy filling his pipe, cramming the tobacco into the bowl with great thoroughness. He said, still intent on the task, ‘Because Miss Marlowe didn’t see fit to acquaint me with that interesting fact.’ When he lifted his head he looked directly and accusingly at Joanna.

She floundered a little, said unconvincingly, ‘Well, you see, if people think you move in those circles they think — they think you’re more — more grand than you really are. I felt I had to pull my weight here, since I’d made such a nuisance of myself — and I was quite sure you’d never have turned me loose on those nappies, if you’d thought I was associated with such a famous person as Maria.’ ‘Oh, was that it?’ asked Matthew drily. The other men shifted uncomfortably, sensing their employer’s displeasure. Bill and Flynn, to cover up, began to ask eager questions about Maria. Matthew Greenwood stood up. ‘You can find out all you want to know in the days ahead. Right now we’d better get cracking on storm precautions.’ Joanna said, ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ ‘Not a thing, thanks,’ he said, in a distant tone that chilled her. ‘Just take a look at the children and turn in if you like. This will take us some time. We’ll put the horses and cows and goats inside. And that mob of killers in one of the sheds.’ The killers, Joanna knew by now, were the sheep kept near the homestead to provide the mutton for the table. Just as the men were leaving the phone rang again. Joanna called Matthew back. ‘Will you take it? I hate explaining myself.’

His face changed after he spoke into the instrument and heard the voice. He said, ‘Oh, Just a moment, I’d like to take this one in my office. I’ll go through.’ His tone was warm, pleasant, very different from the one he’d used to Joanna a few moments before. Another toll call it sounded like. From Christine probably. Naturally he’d want to take it in private. Joanna felt far too tense. That was stupid. Even if Matthew resented her not telling him about Maria, he’d soon get over it. Especially as she’d tell him why — but not in front of his men, when she got the chance. She mustn’t dread it too much. She had seen enough of this man now to know that even when, as was natural, he got a bit ruffled with the youngsters, it was over in a flash, and he was very affectionate with them, spending much time with Toby on his hobbies and in helping Philippa with her stamp collection. He wouldn’t stay mad with her. She felt very disinclined for an early night and she was so slow at preparing meals, she thought it might be an idea to get on with some of it tonight. Although she was improving, none of it came naturally to her, as cooking would to a girl who had been able to watch her mother’s labours in the kitchen for years, painlessly absorbing methods and times. If she peeled a vast quantity of potatoes and stewed some apples tonight, and got carrots and pumpkin ready, she might ease tomorrow’s burden.

Matthew would have no time to help her if they had to be out looking for buried sheep. It was heavenly to be working without Michael underfoot, dearly though she loved him, and for the first time she felt on top of the job. Much better than going to bed and not sleeping because she was worrying about Matthew’s displeasure. Besides, it made her feel she was pulling her weight. As she peeled she was turning something over in her mind. She had a jolly good mind to try a batch of scones — or, as Kiwis called them, sconns. In the schoolroom she had found a school cookery book with basic recipes in it, very detailed as to method. Philippa had had a term at cooking school before coming up here. Joanna had fallen on that book as on manna from Heaven. Tonight would be a good opportunity to practise on one’s own, with no one to raise an amused eyebrow if she failed. She’d put the things in the pig-bucket if anything went wrong. She only hoped the pigs were standing up to all her failures, that was all. It was gloriously simple. Just rub the butter into the dry ingredients, mix with milk and roll out. Nothing complicated about rubbing. The other day she’d had to ask Philippa what creaming butter and sugar meant. Philippa had looked amazed and said, though affectionately, ‘Goodness, you are a duffer, aren’t you, Joanna? You put them in that cake mixer thing and whirr them round till they’re all mixed and soft. But in cooking school because we didn’t

have mixers, of course we used to soften the butter the wee-est bit and cream it with a fork.’ Joanna was scared to use that efficient-looking gadget and all its accessories, and had decided if ever she plucked up the courage to try her hand at making a cake, it would be with a fork! The only thing that stumped her with the scones was that Philippa’s recipe said that a wetter mixture always turned out lighter than a drier one, but as she hadn’t the faintest idea what would be wet and what dry, she stuck to the exact measurements and hoped for the best. She made a double batch as the men’s appetites had already impressed her. It was just as well scones didn’t suffer from having the oven door opened, because she was so determined these would not be burnt top or bottom that it was open far more than it ought to have been. They took a little longer to cook because of that, but no one could have found fault with the finished product. She gazed at them proudly and got a clean tea-towel to wrap them as the instructions had said. Her happiness at this further accomplishment banished the shadow of Matthew’s displeasure. She washed up the dishes, set out the supper-table with plates of biscuits too, and huge mugs for the coffee. As soon as she heard voices coming near the house, she began to butter the hot scones. Flushed and

triumphant, she was placing two huge plates of them on the table when the men came in. Bill was first. He whistled. ‘Look at that! She’s not only ornamental, she can cook. Hey, Matt, I thought you said she couldn’t!’ ‘The proof will be in the eating,’ said Joanna anxiously. ‘I’ve never made them before, but they look all right, don’t they?’ Her tone held wonder. Hew said warmly, ‘They certainly do. I don’t reckon Penny Beaudonais-Smith could do better than that, and she’s the best cook round here. I don’t know why you put biscuits out — no one’s going to eat biscuits with scones like that going.’ Even Matthew made an appreciative comment (and did full justice to them), but he wasn’t nearly as free and easy tonight. Yet he ought to be more relaxed with the men home. Probably there’d never be any need, now, for his Christine to know they had been up the valley when she’d first landed here. The men said the wind had a razor-edge — if you could call it a wind. More like four winds, bearing down on you from every point of the compass in gusts and swirls, but with the one from the South Pole straight off the ice. Joanna could hear it gaining in force, sweeping against the sturdy house in buffeting, shuddering gusts, moaning round the eaves, even shrieking now and then like a demon — or a thousand demons in gulleys and crags.

Matthew stood up. ‘Bed! It could be a tough day tomorrow. Don’t bother with these dishes — just stack them.’ Joanna shook her head. ‘No, I couldn’t. Doesn’t matter if I’m late. My day won’t be so much different, and I’m so painfully slow, I like to get off to a good start. Yesterday’s dishes isn’t my idea of one.’ Bill laughed and said, ‘You’re someone after Christine’s own heart. She’s a fair demon, always down on procrastination. Never knew anyone so rigid about a timetable. Well, goodnight, Miss Marlowe.’ Matthew said goodnight too. Joanna had just put the last cup on its hook when he walked back in. ‘Joanna?’ She turned. ‘Yes, Matthew?’ ‘Did you give me your real reason for coming here? At least your real reason for wanting to get away for a bit?’ She said quietly, without quailing, ‘Yes, I did. If you mean was it true I wanted to get away from Maria and find my real self, yes. Why?’ ‘Well, naturally, now I know who Maria is, I can’t help wondering.’ Joanna swallowed, but kept her head high. ‘I think I know what you mean. You’ve probably seen her in this series of hers, when you’ve been on holiday. She’s womanly in it, an older heroine type, wise, tender-hearted, everybody’s

idea of a loving, affectionate family woman. Almost everyone associates actresses and actors with the parts they play. They even — some of them — think the stories are real. Why, when Rusty, that spaniel in the series, was supposed to be ill, we got absolutely bogged down in mail. Homemade remedies and advice by the ton. So you probably think I just imagined half of what I said about her.’ He shook his head. ‘I didn’t doubt you about her character, Joanna. Only why the devil didn’t you tell me who she was?’ Joanna said, ‘I wanted to get you by yourself for that. I admit the reason I gave in front of the men was weak — though there is something in it. People can be unnatural with you if they think you’re closely associated with a famous personality. No, Matthew, the reason I didn’t tell you was that I unburdened myself to you on the spur of the moment — I don’t know why — I’d never done it before. Only it didn’t seem to matter as I thought you’d never know who I was talking about. And I realized I’d done the unforgivable — let Maria down. She just has to keep up a good public image. Can you understand? I thought I wouldn’t need to let you know, and that therefore I’d have done her no harm, after all, with my outburst to you. I do owe her some loyalty.’ Matthew made an involuntary movement towards her, then restrained himself.

They measured glances. Then Joanna said in a flat voice, ‘I can see my explanation doesn’t satisfy you, Matthew. Why should it? You’ve never lived in my world, though — for a very short time — I’ve lived in yours. And it’s the best I can do. It happens to be the truth. Goodnight.’ And she walked away, her head held high.

How was she to know it hadn’t been Christine who had rung but Maria. Maria, who with some sixth sense telling her that this single man on this isolated homestead could menace her chances of keeping Joanna’s services, had asked Matthew to see he got Joanna back to them as soon as was humanly possible, and had added: ‘We’ve been so worried about our darling girl. Her fiancé, Shane Burford, my nephew, quarrelled with her. Just a lovers’ tiff, but fond and all as I am of her, I must admit she sulks. She’s trying to get her own way with Shane over some silly, stupid thing — I won’t go into details — and this is her way of doing it.’ ‘He’s quite distraught about it, poor boy. He thought she’d get over it in a day or two — she usually does — and come to us, and he’s been nearly going out of his mind, expecting every ring at his hotel to be her. But I know it will work out. They’re madly in love, really.’ Maria wasn’t an actress for nothing. She had sounded quite anguished about Joanna.

Long before morning came, Joanna knew they were cut off. She had slept very badly and at three in the morning had stood by her window for a long time watching the snowflakes swirl and scurry, drive and settle. Just before dawn the sound and fury died away and they got up to a silent, beautiful world, knowing that its loveliness and hush were spelling death to hundreds, if not thousands, of sheep trapped under that smothering blanket in the basins of the valleys.

CHAPTER EIGHT WELL, at least there was no time to dwell upon the bickering tensions of last night. They were up early even though it was still too dark to do anything outside. They had their breakfast and Joanna was amazed to find how philosophical the men were. Of course this was not new to them. They accepted it and coped to the best of their ability and were not heroic or dramatic about it. They loved the mountains, these men, and knew the price they paid was in gruelling hard work at these times and in heavy stock losses. ‘We’re better able to cope with it now,’ said Matthew. ‘When the run was first taken up, they overstocked, carried far more than they ought, for winter grazing. All right for summer. But under present land laws no owner may graze more than he can reasonably carry through a winter. Apart from saving the enormous losses, it prevents erosion. We could carry twelve thousand head through the summer, but can winter only five thousand.’ Hew, seeing Joanna’s interest while she dished them out a huge breakfast, said ‘1895 was the worst winter on record, Miss Marlowe. Five thousand sheep were snowed under and frozen in one small gulley. The whole of Lake Alexandrina was frozen over and was so hard five hundred cattle were driven over it and the surface not even cracked. Now that lake seldom has ice even

round its edges for more than a week, and the whole area never freezes over. They certainly had it hard those days.’ Joanna looked outside and decided they still had it hard. Hew, unusually loquacious, continued: ‘Of course the place is better fenced now. Keeps the sheep lower, even if instinct brings them down from the high tops as soon as it gets colder. Well, part instinct, part sheer necessity — hunger. But in those days all that marked the boundaries were the natural ones of rivers and streams that held the sheep on certain blocks. But an old man blizzard like this can still do terrible harm.’ Flynn grinned. ‘Bet your sweet life you never thought you’d ever meet up with a situation like this, Miss Marlowe — oh, darn, I can’t be calling you that all the time. I’ll say Joanna. Nice name. We’ll be so tired come nightfall we’ll not be wanting to use two words where one would do.’ Matthew said drily, ‘Odd, but I’ve never noticed you short of breath for talking, Flynn!’ They all laughed. Then the sun came up and where they had been peering out on to a ghostly world that had gleamed whitely through black velvet shadows and had paled to a chilly and sombre greyness, now, as suddenly as if someone had turned a switch, the first colours were struck from dazzling peaks, lights of flame and coral, rose and amethyst, with here and there sapphire glints where great ice-clefts split the depths of the glaciers.

Despite the grim work that lay ahead, they were all caught in a net of silence by its beauty, and even Michael, held in Joanna’s arms at the window, stayed perfectly still, watching it. The difference in the landscape from yesterday made Joanna catch her breath. Then landmarks had broken up the vast sweep of the land, fences, creeks, trees... now it was just as if some huge white nylon eiderdown had been spread over it, obliterating all save the highest features of the Awatipua river-fiat in front of the house to the west and the south. There was hardly a fence to be seen and against the shearers’ quarters and the cottages — empty just now because Matt had no couples working on the place — drifts were piled on one side in sloping formation nearly to the eaves where the wind had driven the snow. In all that blinding whiteness the Awatipua flowed darkly, like an evil river, truly living up to its name, the Channel-of-the-Goblin. But Heronscrag itself stood sturdily triumphant on its ridges, looking out over an enchanted landscape where every snow-crystal was diamond-bright. The men went out on snowshoes. Joanna, from the back door, envied them fiercely, yet saw them go with anxiety in her heart. What hazards might they not meet? They took the dogs with them because even their little feet would help in stamping out tracks to some other terrain where the sheep would be

in much less danger of being smothered. They took vast quantities of bread and cold mutton and told Joanna not to expect them back till dark. The telephone was as dead as a dodo and so they were well and truly isolated. Joanna, quite unaccountably, felt her spirits rising. The men had left instructions and the day at the homestead was full. The children finished the schoolwork of the day before, then they and Joanna began on their chores. They dug out paths to the outhouses, fed the goats and forked in hay to the sheep in the shed. When Michael woke up, they carried his play-pen into the shed so he should not miss all the fun. The shovelling was unbelievably heavy, yet exhilarating. Soon their fingers began to tingle again and their cheeks to glow. Matthew, the night before, had turned on the lights in the fowl-houses and had left instructions that they were not to be turned off in case the birds froze. They made them steaming hot mash and left wheat scattered round to save them going down there again should another snowfall come on, though the sky was clear and blue, and it didn’t seem likely. They came back to the house and had steaming bowls of soup. Joanna put more on against the men’s return. She had an idea that in these conditions one should never let the stock-pot be empty. She also took some more mutton out of the deep-freeze because for once Matthew had forgotten it. For some reason this boosted her ego. She was

beginning, she thought, to lose a little of her extreme nervousness about the cooking. The success with the scones had done that much for her. ‘Do you think,’ asked Philippa with shining eyes, ‘we could make an apple pie for dinner? We made pastry at cooking class once and I’ve watched Mum a lot.’ Joanna hugged her. ‘We’ll give it a try and if it flops and even those longsuffering pigs turn it down, I’m almost sure the goats would mop it up. They seem to eat everything... even a bit of my apron! I’ll keep my distance from them from now on.’ They made it in the early afternoon so that if it was a failure they could get rid of it secretly. It turned out unbelievably perfect. ‘Though you never know,’ said Joanna, after her first rapture. ‘Remember that apricot sponge. It looked fine too... on the top.’ Philippa said, giggling, ‘Do you think we could cut a small square out of it and make sure it’s cooked against the apples and then put it back?’ Joanna said fearfully, ‘It won’t hurt it, will it? I mean collapse?’ ‘I shouldn’t think so,’ said Philippa sturdily. ‘It’s got that pie-funnel holding it up. Let’s try.’ Joanna carefully sliced a small corner out. Both faces then registered extreme delight. Then they giggled and carefully slid it back.

Joanna said happily, ‘We just have to keep our prestige up in front of these men, don’t we, and what they don’t know won’t ever hurt them!’ Suddenly two arms shot round her neck and a kiss was planted on her cheek. ‘Oh, Joanna, I do love you. That’s because you treat me like a grown-up. Some grown-ups are awful. They think kids don’t know anything and treat you like an absolute nit! But you don’t.’ Joanna hugged her back. ‘Philippa darling, I’m afraid it’s only because I’m such a nit myself. I just daren’t be snooty. And I’ve never had anything to do with children before so I don’t know how else to treat you except as an adult. But I do love you and Toby and Michael. But we mustn’t let this success go to our heads or we’ll make some frightful blunder. Now what next? Oh, those nappies! I’d better get them out while the sun is shining. It won’t stay out long today.’ Philippa burst out laughing. ‘If you put them out today they’d freeze like boards in five minutes and rip to pieces if you tried to unpeg them!’ Joanna gazed at her unbelievingly. ‘Would they?’ Philippa said, ‘That floor-cloth that’s hanging on the verandah line ... I noticed it was stiff. Try it.’ Joanna felt it and stared. Philippa took it by the bottom corners and tugged gently. It split clean in two. She said, ‘We’ll put them in the dryer. That’s what Mum does.’

They went into the laundry, did the washing of them, spun them round, then put them in the dryer, under Philippa’s proud instruction, and watched fascinated as they puffed up in the hot air. Joanna said, ‘I do pity all the women who lived up here before the electricity was put through. What did they do?’ ‘Well, there are those airing lines up here. I expect they let them drip dryish on this concrete floor, then aired them on the rack of the old coal range, or the oven doors.’ At that moment the drier stopped. Joanna said, alarmed, ‘There, I’ve bust it! First time I’ve used it. Or is it an automatic cut-out? Could they possibly be dry yet?’ Philippa shook her head. ‘No, it’s not bust. It’s worse, I think. Joanna, I think we’re having a power-failure. The weight of snow will have brought lines down all over the country, I expect. Now we really are in trouble!’ Joanna felt completely dismayed. It was dark here so soon as this time of year. And so much depended upon the power. She said to Philippa, ‘Will we have to light fires in the bedrooms? The central heating will be off, won’t it?’

Philippa shook her head. ‘No, that much I do know. It’s fed by diesel oil too, same as the stove. Just as well, or the pipes in the bathroom would freeze up and burst.’ Joanna said, ‘Good job the rooms will stay warm, though, for the electric mattresses will be off. We’ll have to use those bottles. I wondered why they had so many hanging up in here.’ Toby appeared, was acquainted with the trouble, and said with relish, ‘Gosh, it’s going to be just like pioneering days. The power could be off for weeks and weeks. You’ll have to get out the kerosene lamps and the old irons.’ ‘What?’ gasped poor Joanna. ‘What irons?’ Philippa gave a withering look at Toby. ‘You always make the most of everything. It’s all right, Joanna, Mum had to do it once. She managed. You put those funny old irons on the stove and when they’re hot enough you rub them on an old cloth in case they are dirty from the stove, and then iron like that. You have to be careful not to scorch them, though.’ Joanna’s heart sank. Oh, if only she had got that huge batch of ironing done yesterday! But there just hadn’t been time. ‘Oh, well, let’s get these naps on to the rack over the range. They’re almost dry. And for Pete’s sake, stay as clean as you can, kids, so there’s not too much washing and ironing. I’ve got used to that washing-machine and I’d hate to wash for eight of us by hand!’

Several times she managed to locate the men with the binoculars from the lookout, black blobs on a dazzling white surface, on the lower slopes, all of them wearing scarlet woollen caps. No more snow fell. Joanna hoped they had got the lot in the one go. She said to Philippa, ‘I can see there are a row of lamps in the laundry. Do you know how to light them? I mean could you tell me how? I won’t let you do it. I’m nervous of lamps, but I’d like the house lit and welcoming when the men come home.’ Toby said quietly, ‘I could light them. I watched Matt in the last black-out. You make sure there’s plenty of kerosene in, take the glass off and turn the wick up and then when it’s going, put the glass back and turn it down. Boys are better at these things than girls.’ Joanna said quietly, ‘I know that, but you are my responsibility, Toby, and nobody is going to do it for me. If I can’t manage we’ll use candles, I see there are dozens.’ She lit them out in the laundry, because it had a concrete floor and that would reduce the chance of fire. Joanna had read somewhere about a lamp exploding. She treated the first like a live bomb, smoked one glass horribly, so got another lamp out and didn’t put the glass back on till the wick was burning steadily and she could turn it down to a glimmer.

The lamps were well filled. She guessed the master of Heronscrag would always be ready for such an emergency. She was discounting Toby’s prediction that the power would be off for weeks — he just loved to exaggerate. Repair gangs were probably out now. They lit three hurricane-lamps and took them down to the fowl-houses, hanging them from hooks in the roof, placed there for that purpose. There was something very cosy and intimate about lamplight. The stove was glowing redly and two lamps gave sufficient light to work by, yet made the big old kitchen full of inviting shadows and dusky corners. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but all the colour had gone out of the sky. They heard barking and rushed to the windows to see the men and dogs nearing the cottages. The men got the dogs settled and fed and the hardpacked snow taken out from between their pads, to relieve their discomfort, then came inside. Joanna’s eyes met Matt’s, vividly blue under the red cap, saw mingled sweat and grime standing out on his face and knew a gladness she had never known before. It gave her a slight sense of shock. He was home and safe, and she had a warm house for him and a meal that she felt wasn’t going to shame her. What odds if he was angered with her because she hadn’t told him who Maria was? What matter if she was an embarrassment to him? Or would be, if this

tiresome Christine knew! At this moment he was just a cold, tired, and hungry man and she was enjoying the privilege of serving the man she — Joanna bit that thought off as abruptly as the power failure had cut off the dryer. He said through stiff, cold lips, ‘The power’s off... you’ve got the lamps on! Good!’ Good. One small word of praise, yet it warmed Joanna’s heart and filled her with pride. She was coping, the greenhorn from London. The others were more vocal with their praise. Matthew was certainly more reserved with her than before last night, yet Joanna had a confident feeling that under these conditions it wouldn’t last. They had had a gruelling day, though it hadn’t been half as bad as if it had still been snowing. One hill had been sheltered and many sheep had taken advantage of this. Others had been well buried. There would be heavy losses, of course, but they had fared better than expected and as in these altitudes they did not lamb till November, it wouldn’t be as disastrous as on the plains where lambing might have started. Nevertheless, a grim, hard time lay ahead. Then, when the men had done full justice to the excellent meal, looking at Joanna and Philippa with great respect when they saw the huge pie come out of the oven where it had been carefully re-heated, Michael took their minds off the weather.

He pulled himself up by Matthew’s chair, turned and saw Joanna, said clearly, ‘Jo-Jo!’ and walked across to her. Just as he made it to her knee, he held out those dimpled bands and collapsed in a fat, laughing heap. Joanna took out a hanky hastily, blew her nose, blinked her eyes and looked up to find Matthew’s eyes upon her. Oh, how stupid! He’d think she was clean daft, getting all dewy-eyed because a baby had taken his first steps towards her. But it was a minor miracle, just the same. It always was, she supposed, but this had been to her, Joanna, and she had never seen such a thing before. Flynn scooped Michael up, said, ‘Right, young-feller-me-lad, we’ll have you out snow-raking with us in no time. Gosh, your mother will be pleased. She wanted you walking by the time your daddy got home.’ Michael seemed so conscious of the fact that he had accomplished a feat that he kept at this new wonder till suddenly, tired out, he keeled over and went to sleep on the floor. Joanna carried him off to his bed, snuggling her face into the creases of his neck that still smelled faintly of baby powder and said, ‘I’ll not wake him up by bathing him. I’ll just top and tail him... I don’t think he’ll stir.’ As she tucked the rosy baby in, she reflected that she couldn’t have been more proud had he been her own.

The men were dog-tired and plumped for baths and an early night, and all they did when they reappeared in dressing-gowns and pyjamas was to turn on the battery- operated radio and listen to the news. It had been a disastrous storm. The worst since 1945. Stock losses were heavy everywhere, cars were abandoned on the roads, there had been several cases of near tragedy, power lines were down everywhere. Linesmen were desperately tracing faults and repairing them, but it would be weeks before some areas were restored. ‘What did I tell you?’ crowed Toby. He gave a triumphant glance at Joanna and Philippa. ‘So you did,’ replied Joanna justly, ‘but perhaps it will come on again sooner than we think. I mean if we get no more snow.’ Matthew said, ‘I’m afraid our area will be the last, naturally enough. They’ll have to restore power to those parts that are more thickly populated first. Oh, well, I guess we can take it, we have before, only in the old days at least they always had yeast on hand.’ Joanna looked at him curiously. ‘Yeast? Isn’t that used in bread-making? But we’ve got miles of loaves in the deep- freeze.’ ‘Sure... also strings of sausages, saveloys, Canada geese and venison, but it will keep only a certain time if the power is off. I’ll store the meat outside in the big cool store, but the bread will be a problem.’

‘Oh,’ said Joanna, but it was a very eloquent Oh. Hew said unconcernedly, ‘Well, what matter? Over at Four Peaks before World War Two when my brother and I were shepherding, we were baching and got cut off and our yeast ran out. We lived on soda scones for weeks. I got a bit sick of baking them, though. But then we were tired when we came in and had to turn round and set to baking them. We’ll be all right, we’ve got Joanna. I once had a bright idea and made enough for a week. They were like rocks at the end of it. And we ran out of jam. Lived on golden syrup, dripping, scones, mutton and tinned milk. We only had one cow and she drowned herself. But in any case, Joanna’s scones are a darned sight better than mine.’ Joanna felt flattered, but groaned at thought of the work ahead of her. She could just imagine the quantity of scones she would have to bake — that is if the way they had devoured a couple of loaves for their cut lunches today was any gauge!

Just before she went to bed she found herself alone with Matthew for a few moments. She was setting the table for the next morning and he appeared to be hovering around. It made her, for some reason, nervous.

He spoke abruptly, to her back. ‘Joanna, when you said to Maria Delahunt that you wouldn’t mind if she got another secretary, and you’d have a year’s working holiday in New Zealand, what did you mean?’ Joanna paused, with the porridge spoons in her hand, and did not turn round. Her voice was puzzled, ‘What else could I mean but just that? Maria threatened to sack me if I took these three weeks off. So I called her bluff and said it would suit me all right. So she capitulated and let me have a holiday on my own for the first time ever.’ She started to laugh. ‘And some holiday it has turned out, too!’ He didn’t join her in chuckling. He said, as if thinking hard, ‘When you repeated that the other night to her, on the phone, were you thinking it would work again?’ Joanna dropped the spoons and swung round on him. ‘Matthew Greenwood! What on earth are you thinking about? I got my own way — about the holiday. I don’t need to use those tactics again — I—’ ‘Who is Shane?’ he asked. Joanna’s tawny brows twitched together. ‘Shane? Maria’s publicity man and her nephew. Her heir too, if it comes to that. — You heard me say he could answer Maria’s fan mail, till she got another secretary, didn’t you?’ Matthew seemed to wait, as if he wanted her to tell him something, to elaborate. So she added, rather at a loss, ‘He’s quite a nice chap. Bit weak,

but then he’s always been under Maria’s dominance too. He ought to get married and strike out on his own. But he even lives in the house with us. Thinks his wife ought to, as well. But—’ ‘I see,’ said Matthew. ‘Well, I want to be up early in the morning. Goodnight.’ Joanna stood still in the middle of the kitchen staring after him... good heavens, she hadn’t been keeping him up! And what was all this to do with him? Then she gave a wry smile. Sounded as if he didn’t want her to leave Maria’s service, didn’t want her to stay in New Zealand. But even if she did, she wouldn’t be staying round these parts. Nothing to stay round them for, once that river was passable, and Brownie could get back over.

She worked on for some time, because the more she did at night, the easier it was to get through the tasks the next day. Matthew’s last strange words had hurt her, but she was still conscious of a strange exhilaration that had been hers all day, something she hadn’t allowed herself to analyse. But now it wouldn’t be gainsaid. She wrapped herself up in her apricot quilted dressing-gown and sat down at her mirror to brush her coppery hair, for, although she was bone-tired physically, she was wide-awake in mind. She stared at her reflection for a long time, because there were moments when you just had to commune with something when there were things you could admit to none save your own image. So she faced it fairly and squarely.

She was in love, for the first time in her life, with this lean, hard-bitten man of the mountains. She, Joanna Marlowe, whose world revolved round studios and parties and Continental holidays and Mediterranean cruises, wanted nothing more than to live among these isolated, splendid, cruel mountains for the rest of her life! And much good falling in love was going to do her. Matthew Greenwood wasn’t the type to be carried away. He was engaged, most advantageously, to the woman who owned this property. A woman who was wealthy, widowed, possessive! Even had he been free, what could she, Joanna, have brought him? A complete ignorance of his way of life a gift for languages (French, Italian, German would be a great help away up here, she thought sarcastically) and a secretarial training. Well, perhaps farmers needed a few letters typed sometimes! No, once the thaw set in, and the rivers fell, their ways must lie apart. In fact, thirteen thousand miles apart. She in the Northern Hemisphere, he in the Southern. Bleakness swept over Joanna. It was too different. Even the seasons would be different. By December she would be back in England and it would be the season of bare trees, mist, rain, low temperatures and here it would be high summer... hard to imagine... fancy having Christmas in summertime! The roses would be out and in the shingle on the mountainsides, basking in sun, the mountain lilies would bloom, fragile and white.

She stopped looking at her too-bright eyes in the mirror, though she was tearless, and put her face in her hands. It was too deep for tears. Suddenly she lifted her head, stared at her imaged self and said fiercely, ‘I don’t care, I don’t care. I’m glad I met him. At least I know now that love does exist. I was beginning to think myself incapable of feeling it. Better to know it than never to have experienced it. I’m here, with him, and I couldn’t run away if I wanted to — and I don’t. I’ll treasure every moment of every day. It’s all I’ll ever have of him.’ Then the girl in the mirror looked wistful and a little bleak. ‘But I wish I could see a happier future ahead of him. He deserves the best — the way he’s coped with these children — lesser men would have quailed at that — and the way he’s coped with me. I wish — oh, how I wish, for his own sake, not mine, that he could see it isn’t wise to marry a woman so possessive, so determined. I can’t see that it’s going to make for happiness. And I would so like to see him happy, God.’ She sprang up impatiently, flung off her robe, blew out her two candies and buried her head in the pillow. Mercifully, because she was physically tired, she slept...

CHAPTER NINE THEY were gruelling days, yet somehow Joanna felt insulated against physical exhaustion now. This interlude was a gift from the gods. Or so she would regard it. Filling and cleaning lamps every day took a vast amount of time, yet she sang as she did them. There would be losses, but not as heavy as at first feared, for they managed to feed out to a great number, getting them to faces that were exposed to what sun there was, and would thaw out first. Deep back in the valleys, of course, many sheep would be trapped. The men were delighted to find Joanna a moderately good performer on the skis, having spent so many holidays in Switzerland and Austria. So, because it was not good for them to be cooped up all the time, she and the children got outside as much as possible. It was wonderful to be able to take off just a few yards outside the door. They got out toboggans too and had glorious fun. The moment Joanna treasured most was when she and Matthew, on the same toboggan, struck a snag, lost control, and tumbled headlong down a slope into soft, deep, powdery snow. Matthew pulled her out, still laughing, set her on her feet, brushed the snow from round the collar of the green suede jacket she was wearing, and pulled off the white woollen cap with the big pompon on top, to shake it for her.

‘Oh, you are a good sport, Jo,’ he said. Joanna stopped laughing and said, ‘Oh, Matthew what did you call me? — You called me Jo!’ Her eyes were starry. He said, his eyes narrowing, ‘What’s so special about that?’ ‘Just that nobody ever has. I’ve never had a nickname. It has always been Joanna. I — it sounded... I mean I liked it. As if I’d had a family.’ They stood looking at each other for a long moment, Joanna tall and very straight, her eyes on a level with Matthew’s because she was slightly uphill. Matthew looked away from her and back again. Then he said, looking down where his feet were hidden in the snow, ‘But Joanna is a beautiful name. Euphonious.’ ‘But Jo sounds so friendly.’ Matthew said, ‘But it isn’t exactly—’ and at that moment two parka-clad figures fell down the slope on top of them, having parted company with their toboggan too. Philippa and Toby. The moment was lost. Joanna longed to say, ‘Matthew, finish that sentence. What were you going to say?’ Only somehow she couldn’t. It was making too much of it. And he seemed to avoid her later.

These were only brief intervals sandwiched into the almost unrelenting work of keeping the stock from freezing, or, at best, from losing too much condition. The bread had gone off and they became reduced to scones. Hew said to Joanna, ‘My mother used to make what she called a scone loaf, baked, I think, in the bottom of the oven. Might make a change, Jo. You could cut slices off it for toast.’ It worked and had a nice hard crust on it, but it was strange how you longed for fresh yeasty bread. Flynn could remember his grandmother making potato yeast, but as he had no idea how she had made it, this was only tantalising. Especially as there were so many potatoes in the cold store for the root vegetables. Joanna was wistfully sure that had she been brought up to cook, she could have worked out how to make that yeast, but it was out of her ken. She hadn’t thought one could possibly tire of goose, trout, and venison, but as they thawed out she just had to keep using them and she decided mutton was much better as a staple diet. Some of the last of the birds they had to dole out as dog-tucker. One night she was missing for long after she’d got the children to bed. Matthew finally went in search of her and found her at the west window of the schoolroom, staring out at the eternal snows. A crescent moon was riding high above Mount Erebus, with a star in attendance, and above the jagged

peaks of the Alps, was a light like a theatre backdrop, compounded of moonlight, starlight and the reflection off the vast snowfields. It outlined the ridges of the mountains with silver as if drawn in with a luminous pencil. Matthew said from the door, ‘What are you doing, Joanna? You’ll get cold away from the fire. I turned the heat down here earlier.’ She shook her head. ‘It’s still warm enough. This is so beautiful I’m trying to imprint it on my h— on my mind.’ She had nearly said heart. He said, rather roughly, ‘What for? Won’t you be glad to forget it? The discomfort, the isolation... no telephone, no television, no lights... no buses passing the door! No neighbours — near ones, that is — only the boredom of everlasting snow and making batch after batch of scones and washing nappies!’ Joanna turned round and her eyes flashed. ‘Have I ever — once — complained about those things, Matthew Greenwood? Have I?’ He came nearer. ‘No, you haven’t,’ he admitted. ‘I’ll give you that. Despite your background you’ve really got guts, but—’ he stopped and said, ‘What the devil are you laughing at?’ Joanna couldn’t speak. When she could sober up she said: ‘It’s such an unusual compliment, yet you couldn’t have said anything that pleased me more.’

There was a faint resentment in his tone as he answered. Joanna liked that. It was somehow better than the indifference tinged with a condescending comradeliness that had marked the few days since the episode with the toboggan. He said: ‘I know damned well I’m not much of a hand with flowery phrases — and I suppose you’re well used to those. But you can’t expect a high-country man to turn a compliment neatly.’ She said, still a shake of laughter in her tone, ‘Oh, Matt, Matt, don’t be so prickly. I like the way you say things. Much of what I’ve heard passing for compliments in my former world, has been empty enough. I like the way you speak — when you forget how awkward I’ve made it for you — and get warmed up to a subject. No one could live in this house and not know how well-read you are. There’s something to be said for being so far from other distractions. It does at least give you hours for reading. And — and when you speak about Heronscrag and Moana-Kotuku and the ranges, you’re even poetical. I don’t suppose you realize it yourself.’ He didn’t answer for a moment and because she hadn’t a candle she couldn’t see his face. When he did speak he harked back, ‘What were you thinking about, staring out at the high tops?’ She didn’t answer right away. Then she said slowly, ‘I was trying to tell myself that this was August... that in England people will be on their summer

holidays... that there will be roses and fuchsias and honeysuckle out in the gardens... that deep in a Hampshire wood I once visited, a nightingale will be singing. That I’m really Down Under, that here you really do have summer in December. I’m trying to imagine what it will be like here then, because I’ll never know, will I, Matthew?’ He came across to the window, stood so close his right shoulder touched her left one. Joanna had to quell an impulse to turn and put her head on his shoulder under his chin. That would be heaven indeed— He looked out at the unearthly silver of the frozen snow too, looked up at the exquisite radiance of the Milky Way and said, ‘Spring will suddenly carpet the river-flats with vivid green, Joanna. There will be little Alpine flowers blooming in the shingle, and the tussock and the snowgrass will be in abundance and every mountain face will be running with water and there will be a dozen times as many birds to sing.’ ‘And though it’s hard to believe the bulbs can possibly survive this, there will be daffodils and narcissi — and in November our surviving ewes will lamb and the air will be full of happy bleating. And then suddenly it will be summer. We can’t grow fuchsias up here — too frost-tender — and I don’t remember anyone ever trying honeysuckle, but we do have roses. As you’ll have noticed. But I can’t help wishing you could have seen our mountain lilies... they’re like huge buttercups, with petals as pure and waxy as magnolia petals, and orange and green stamens at their hearts, surrounded all sides by

great glossy green heart-shaped leaves. But you’ll be back in England when that happens. You’ll never know how beautiful this barren countryside can be. You’ll never experience summer in December. And you’ll wonder how you ever survived isolation like this, grim and frightening, sans light, sans telephone, sans a road to civilization... sans everything!’ He’d moved into the moonlight. Joanna looked at him by it. She was very close, so she moved back so he couldn’t see the expression in her eyes, and said deliberately, ‘Yes, Matthew. Sans light, sans telephone, sans a road to civilization, but not sans everything!’ and before he could ask her what she meant, she went swiftly out of the room saying, ‘I’m sure you menfolk could get your own cuppas tonight. I’m having an early night. Good night.’

It was just as well that when daybreak came it dispelled such confidences by its more prosaic atmosphere and its unromantic tasks. Joanna tackled something she’d dodged doing for a long time. She had noted that when getting preserves and jams the shelves were sticky with syrup and needed scrubbing. Also, she felt that if she investigated those top shelves, she might find some long-forgotten tinned commodity that would give them a little variety. Perhaps some more tinned salmon. The other day she had made some salmon croquettes that had earned high praise. It had given her the courage to confess that the day before she and

Philippa had flown too high and had tried and ruined a steamed pudding. They had fed the gooey mess to the fowls, well mixed with Pollard. ‘We followed the recipe exactly,’ said Joanna indignantly, ‘but it was horrible. That was why you got fruit and custard twice running. I was scared to try another milk pudding after what I did to that rice.’ They all started to laugh. Joanna had had no idea how much rice swelled and had simply asked Hew on the quiet how you cooked it. He’d said, ‘Oh, about as simple procedure as you can get. Just shove some rice in a pie-dish and some sugar and milk — and beaten eggs if you want it custardy — and leave it in the bottom oven for about three hours.’Hew had often been cookie to the gang. Joanna vowed that rice was advancing to meet her across the hearthrug. She’d been away cleaning the bedrooms and had come out to a sickening smell and a mess in the oven that had been horrible to clean off, because with a stove that never went out, you couldn’t cool it down. That smell had hung round forty-eight hours. ‘Never mind,’ said Flynn, ‘you’ve not burnt as much as we would have done. We’re terrors for doing that. It’s a great relief to come in and find a meal cooked, whatever it’s like.’

Joanna didn’t mind their teasing now, because she knew she really had helped, but she thought she must have made every mistake it was possible for any cook to make, with the exception of scones and pastry. Hew said now, ‘I remember I used to make a sort of duff when I was cooking for the shed. Did you by any chance let it go off the boil?’ Philippa and Joanna exchanged glances. Then Joanna said, ‘I pushed it to the back of the stove for a while when we wanted to cook some other stuff quickly. Would that do it? It would? Well, we’ll have another go.’ When she was doing the far top shelf she came on the jars. When she saw they were labelled ‘Yeast’ she couldn’t believe it. She took one down and carried it over to the window. Was that yeast? She had an idea that yeast was fermenty sort of stuff. This was sort of grainy, almost like oatmeal. Wasn’t it more likely that something else had been stored in these jars? She screwed the top off and had instant proof that the original contents were here because the paper seal hadn’t been broken. She sniffed the contents and realized it did indeed smell like a baker’s shop. A longing for new bread swept over her. She never wanted to taste another scone as long as she lived. But she was sure the men wouldn’t know how to make bread. She examined the label more closely and started to laugh. Well, she could put all idea of making bread out of her mind. This was medicinal yeast.

Apparently you soaked it overnight and drank the liquid next morning. She was just about to return it disgustedly to the shelf, when it slipped round in her hand and on the back she saw instructions for making bread. She gazed at it fascinated, then dismayed. It sounded awfully complicated. You had to put some of this stuff into a bowl with sugar and bran and warm water and leave it to ‘work’. What could that mean? Oh, ferment. If you liked you could strain the bran off, but it made a nice wholesome loaf if you left it in. But the time it took to make bread, evidently! No wonder bakers worked at night! Joanna had imagined it to be like making scones only putting yeast in instead of baking powder. Why, this would take most of the day. You had to mix it and leave it to rise time and again — heavens, suppose she did something wrong and it spread everywhere like that ill-fated rice! Joanna decided it was much too complicated for a novice like herself and put the jar back on its shelf and stacked some tins of custard powder in front so it wouldn’t look at her reproachfully every time she went in. It was one thing picturing how triumphant she’d feel if she produced lovely loaves of bread and another making a complete mess of it. The men didn’t expect anything but those everlasting scones when they came in. Joanna felt there was something to be said for the old days. At least bread-making was part of one’s training, and if modern appliances hadn’t been invented, they couldn’t let you down, so you always had the know-how... and proper bakers’ yeast!

It was quite ridiculous to let the knowledge that there was yeast of a kind in the house tantalize her mind so much that she couldn’t sleep, but at midnight she crept out to the storeroom, got the jar down, mixed up the sugar and bran and water and then was dismayed to find it had an extremely strong smell. She was sure it would increase with heat, which would be a giveaway. She wanted the bread — if successful — to be a surprise to the men. They would be away up the gulleys till dark. She thought, then grinned. She had that central heating in her room. She’d try putting the basin near that and cover it over and her room was sufficiently remote for the odour not to penetrate. She had little hope of it turning out a success, but woke at six and skipped out of bed to lift the cover off the basin. A foaming solution met her eyes. She had no idea if this was a perfect culture, but she felt you could at least say it was working. She hastily covered it up again, and when she had dressed, locked her door after her. That was one use, at least, for the key Matthew had given her that first night.

When the men had gone she said to the children, ‘come to my room and see something.’ The children’s holidays had begun and there were no schoolroom hours, praise be.

As she unlocked the door Toby sniffed. ‘Jeepers, that smells like new bread, Jo. But—’ ‘I think I’ve got some yeast working,’ she said, smiling. Philippa inspected it. ‘Well, let’s try it. If it’s good won’t they be surprised!’ Joanna said, ‘I’ve only got the vaguest idea about this kneading. Have you ever seen it done, Philippa?’ Philippa shook her head. ‘No, I know our cooking-school always awards a rose-bowl for the best bread-maker, but only the standard Six girls enter for it, and I was only there the first term.’ Joanna said, ‘Don’t laugh at me, but when you read in books about people kneading a cushion, if they’re in a temper, I think they’re sort of pummelling it.Ccould you possibly pummel dough? Scones you just roll out. Toby, you’ve never been inside a baker’s, have you?’ ‘No,’ said Philippa loftily, ‘he’ll be no use to us, he won’t know a thing.’ Toby looked his sister straight in the eye and said, ‘Why not just look in the dictionary?’ It was so simple, Joanna burst out laughing. ‘Really, Toby, you’re a gem! Men are so logical. Come on, let us to the bookcase with all our might and main.’ The dictionary said: ‘To work and press together in a mass, as flour into dough; to operate upon in massage.’

That was enough for them. Very little else, save the evening meal preparation, was done in the homestead that day. It was really nerve-racking having to wait so long between kneadings for the dough to rise each time, and once or twice they didn’t use enough flour for the kneading and got the bread-sponge all over their fingers, but they all had a go at it, and at last it was done and into the oven. Joanna felt exhausted, and if those loaves came out like sunken shells she was sure she would burst into tears. ‘There’s one thing,’ she said, as they gently shut the oven door, ‘it was a boon finding those genuine loaf tins. I thought we’d have to use cake tins. If they do cook all right, they’ll at least be the right shape.’ Never had anything seemed to take so long. They were determined not to open that door till the time was up, in case, as Philippa said, ‘They go flop like sponges.’ Joanna nodded. ‘Yes, I’d rather take the risk of them being burnt. We can always scrape the black off.’ When they did finally open up, they all gazed unbelievingly at the utter perfection of those loaves. Gently, they eased them out of the tins on to the cooling grids, sure the bottoms would not be cooked or something. But there was nothing whatever to cavil at.

‘This,’ said Joanna solemnly, ‘is the greatest moment of my life.’ And they all giggled with sheer relief. Toby said, mouth watering, ‘Do you suppose we could have the teeniest, weeniest bit, Jo?’ She beamed on him. ‘You deserve some. In just about ten minutes, I’m going to gently slice into one of those loaves, to make quite, quite sure before the men come in that they’re really cooked and edible. I mean they could be slightly sour — like those girdle scones I put too much soda in, remember? Because although we followed that recipe implicitly, I’ve got no horse sense as regards cooking.’ That ten minutes seemed just as long to Joanna as it did to the children. She made quite a ritual of cutting that first slice. It wasn’t easy, because the crust was so crisp and the bread inside so warm, but she managed, carefully cut it into three, buttered it lavishly and bit into it. ‘Oh, scrummy,’ said Toby. ‘Gosh, I reckon I could eat that whole loaf, I didn’t know I liked bread all that much. I thought I liked meringues and caramel cake better. I just hope the men aren’t long, that’s all.’ Philippa said, ‘Let’s set the table now... and pile those loaves up in the centre of the big board... do let’s. Aren’t they going to get a surprise!’ They even got out a big snowy-white old-fashioned tablecloth with insets of crochet in filet design. Out went clean napkins in red-and-white and blue-

and-white checked gingham. There were no flowers, of course, but Joanna brought in from the lounge, an arrangement of fir cones and larch boughs that Marguerite had made to amuse herself during the long months she had spent here. The cones were tipped with gilt paint and stiff bows of red ribbon were tucked in here and there. ‘We’ll put the soup out in that lovely old blue-and-white tureen tonight,’ said Joanna, ‘and we’ll turn that casserole of chops into that silver entrée dish. This is an occasion. We’ve done without the staff of life for nearly a week. It calls for a celebration.’ They even dressed Michael up in a blue knitted suit with white socks and red strapped shoes and brushed his fair hair into a damp little quiff. Oh, what a handsome baby he was!... how like Matt! Joanna shook that thought off. She changed into an emerald green frock with a cowled front and a swinging tasselled girdle in gilt. The green made her hair look like a flame, and in the firelight and lamplight her eyes had little golden lights in them.Though she wasn’t to know that. Philippa had got into a royal blue frock with a red patent belt. Joanna brushed her hair till it shone and tied a scarlet ribbon on her pony-tail. She looked much older than ten. Even Toby consented to get into a clean tartan shirt and Joanna made him scrub his nails twice. The men wouldn’t be long. They’d heard their voices in the sheds, a few moments before.

The back door opened after they had heard the customary thuds of boots and leggings being discarded on the closed-in verandah. They stood, waiting for the men to come through. Then they heard Matthew’s voice, raised in utter surprise, ‘What am I smelling? It can’t be! But it is — what—’ The next moment the four men were rushing through the door in a jumble, got jammed, had to sort themselves out, then stopped staring as they saw the festive board. ‘It’s seeing things I am,’ said Flynn. ‘I must be. This is like those mirages in the desert you read about. Only I’m snow-blind, I suppose, and I’m imagining large, beautiful new crusty loaves of bread!’ Bill scratched his ginger head. ‘We couldn’t all see the same mirage. That’s bread all right, but how? Tell me how?’ Joanna, eyes sparkling, with Michael in her arms, and quite unaware of the picture the two of them made, said, ‘I found some medicinal yeast away behind everything on a shelf. It had a recipe on the back. It’s taken us all day, but—’ she waved a proud hand. ‘It’s a joint effort. We all thumped and kneaded for our lives. And but for Toby we wouldn’t have been quite sure how to do it. He suggested we look up the dictionary to find out the meaning of the word knead.’

Matt was staring at her. He said, rather absently, ‘Oh, good show, Toby, you used your head.’ Then, ‘You mean those jars of Yeasto-Flip? Why, they’re years old! I’d forgotten all about them. I’d have thought they’d have gone off long since.’ Joanna shook her head, beaming. ‘They were all sealed. There are plenty of jars left. They’ll do us till — till we can get out again. But why was there so much unused?’ ‘That was one of Chris’s fads. Everyone went mad on it for a bit, so she stocked up. It was when she was living here more or less permanently. Then she read an article on something else and dropped the yeast. I know. She went on to yoghurt instead.’ Matt looked at the table again. ‘Boy, what a feast we’ll have! Isn’t it strange? We take bread for granted till we run out of it.’ His eye roved over the snowy cloth, the decoration, the best silver, and said, ‘Well, let’s change, chaps. Or will the dinner spoil with waiting, Jo?... It won’t? Good-oh. I feel we ought to dress up too to celebrate the end of the bread-famine.’ They didn’t take long because there were two bathrooms and two showers and they reappeared, laughing, not in sports trousers and sweaters as usual, but in suits, white shirts, and ties. Joanna sparkled. She’d not had time to make a pudding. Anyway, she guessed they’d rather just have bread and jam after the main course. She was right... they ate a

whole loaf spread with butter, quince conserve, and strawberry jam. They even argued over who was to have the crusts. Certainly those crusts were away above those on bought bread. Bill, mouth full, said, ‘You’ve got yourself a job for life, Jo. If you can make bread like this, we’ll never buy bread again.’ He stopped short, said, ‘Oh, I forgot... whatever’s the matter with me? — you’re only here till the river goes down. Wasn’t that funny? But you seem to belong here.’ Joanna looked at him with shining brown eyes. ‘That’s the nicest thing I’ve ever had said to me, Bill. I’ve felt such a greenhorn, such an idiot. I couldn’t think of anything worse for a homestead like this than having a city slicker suddenly thrust upon them — or whatever the female equivalent of city slicker is — but that makes me feel as if it’s not been too bad for you after all.’ ‘A masterpiece of understatement, that,’ said Flynn. ‘Why, girl, you’ve been a godsend. And we hand it to you — you’ve made a grand job of it all and never once moaned. We’re darned glad you got washed up on our doorstep!’ Joanna held her breath. Was the master of Heronscrag going to endorse that? Or couldn’t he, despite the way she had buckled in, forget that her very presence here might menace his happiness with Christine? She wouldn’t look at him. He stood up, said, ‘I think this calls for a real celebration,’ and disappeared into the other kitchen. He came back with a bottle of cider and some glasses.

He filled them, handed them to the men, poured out lemon squash for Philippa and Toby, and motioned to them to stand. ‘We’ll drink a toast to the chief cook,’ he said, and raised his glass. ‘To Jo... a jolly good scout. She’s got what it takes.’ They echoed it, then as Flynn brought his glass to his lips, he added, his eyes audacious, ‘And may the thaw never set in!’ Joanna’s eyes flickered to Matthew’s, then looked hastily away. When the meal was over Matthew said, ‘If you get the kids to bed, Joanna, we’ll attend to the dishes. Yes, I know it’s a bit early, Philippa, but you don’t have to put your lamps out — you can read. I’ll come and put them out for you at eight-thirty.’ There had been power cuts before, and above all the beds were brackets that took quite good lamps and were extremely safe. ‘The one thing none of our family can do is cut down on reading,’ said Matthew. ‘Especially in bed.’ By the time the bathing was done, and Michael had had his nursery rhyme and song session, she came out to a tidy kitchen but no menfolk, and the lounge lamps were on.

The door was ajar. She pushed it farther open and saw Matt rolling back the carpet. Flynn was sorting out some records and Hew, surprisingly, was seated at the piano leafing through some music with Bill. Matthew looked up. ‘We’re having a party. You ought to have a good time if you can stand the pace... four men, one woman! We’ve decided you’ve only seen the hard, tough side of this life and we don’t want you to go away with the idea we have none of the social graces. I know you aren’t over-keen on dancing, but we thought you might be a good sport and give us a turn or two.’ Joanna laughed, more at ease and happier than she’d been since she got stranded here. ‘Oh, I don’t hate this sort of dancing. Only being forced into ballet lessons when I was a child. What fun!’ It was a beautiful room, with pictures of mountains or mountain streams on every wall. There were autographed photographs of climbers who were world-famous and who had done much of their training round here, staying at the homestead. She hadn’t known Bill was a trained singer. Every time they decided she needed a rest, Hew played for Bill and played with great feeling. The men were extremely fair to each other, taking Joanna’s dances in turn. She’d never known such an evening.

The huge fireplace was made of stones from the mountains, a wonderful range of colours, and used in their natural shapes, not hewn at all. Matthew had immense pine trunks burning in it. Not that a fire was necessary, but it added light and looked warmer. Lamplight was soft and charming and the flickering of light and shadow from the leaping flames even more so. Joanna was glad of it: electric light would have been too revealing... it was heaven to dance on in Matthew’s arms, circling dreamily, and not having to guard against having too blissful an expression on one’s face. He didn’t talk as much when dancing as the others did. Joanna gave herself up to imagining different circumstances. Imagined Matthew free, with no shadow of dominance by a possessive woman. Herself a free agent, not bound by duty to Maria, but just a neighbour’s daughter, used to and loving the high-country life. Well, that bit wasn’t imagination. She did love it. Perhaps it was something of Great-uncle Henry in her. They danced on. When they were really tired they picked up their books. Joanna knew a great content. It was going to tear her heart out to leave Heronscrag, the mountains, the children — though to be sure the children wouldn’t be here always. When their father came back they would go back to Christchurch. But it wouldn’t hurt if she revelled in this present. It was marvellous to have so much time to read in the evenings, uninterrupted by telephone, callers, television or engagements.

She went out and got something she wanted to read, that she had discovered earlier that day. When she came back the men were all in easy chairs, reading. They had huge packages of books delivered every month, she knew, and one had arrived just before the floods. When they ran out of new books they started in again on the old long-loved ones. Sometimes they read passages aloud. Joanna loved this. It was something she had never known, the very core of family life. Content in itself and not dependent upon outside diversions. She supposed only this type of chap came up here. She knew of course, from their conversation, that they went out a lot when conditions permitted. Normally the river was fordable and many were the parties and meetings in and around the Mackenzie country. They went terrific distances to these, but it didn’t mean a thing to them. So she hadn’t been at all surprised to find them all very good dancers, even Hew, who’d seen to it he’d got his fair share. Joanna stopped thinking her own thoughts and got absorbed in what she was reading. She was sitting on the couch, with a wall lamp directly above her. Hew was against the fire, and the other three were grouped round a centre table where they had two lamps.

Joanna didn’t know a small, delighted sigh had escaped her till suddenly she found Matthew settling beside her on the couch. He spoke softly, because the other men were deep in their reading. ‘What on earth have you found, Joanna? What crummy-looking books! You aren’t after more recipes, are you? Because you don’t have to think, breathe, dream recipes. You’re getting an obsession about the cooking. Nobody becomes one overnight, you know. Relax, girl, relax!’ She looked up and spoke just as softly. ‘They’re not recipe books, Matt. They’re old scrap-books. I found them yesterday. Haven’t had a moment to dip into them till now. I love scrapbooks. There’s a name here.’ She turned back to the front. ‘Sally Macpherson. See? I’m finding them very interesting. All sorts of clippings. Newspaper clippings and cartoons... look... and ever so many poems, some of them favourites of mine since schooldays. It’s like coming across old friends.’ She still had her index finger in the page she’d got up to. Matthew reached his hand across and turned it back. ‘Is this one?’ Joanna instinctively put hand over it. ‘No, that’s not an old favourite. I hadn’t read it before.’ Matthew removed her hand. ‘What’s wrong with me reading it? I like poetry too.’

She knew that. She remembered he had lain in his bed reading Marlowe’s: ‘Come live with me and be my love.’ But she said lightly, ‘Oh, this wouldn’t appeal to a man. It’s very sentimental, but I loved it.’ He said, very low, ‘Aren’t men allowed sentiment?’ Joanna said, a trifle uncertainly, ‘Sometimes they jeer.’ He smiled at her, a smile that did things to her heart. ‘I swear I won’t jeer.’ She let him read it, reading it with him herself. Sally Macpherson must have clipped it from a magazine. It was called The Wish. ‘O man of my heart, I have asked this of God, A little white house that faces the sun And yourself to be coming in from the fields When the day’s work is done. I have told it to God, the wish of my soul, The little white house at the butt of the hill, With a handful of land and some grass where the goat

Would be eating her fill. White walls and nasturtiums, the yellow and red Climbing upwards to cling to the straw of the thatch, And a speckledy hen with a dozen fine eggs That she’s wishful to hatch. The two of us there by the side of the hearth And the dark lonely night creeping up to the door, Your smile and your handclasp, Oh! man of my heart— I am asking no more.’ The poet’s name was W. M. Letts. Joanna wondered if she had written more poems; she would like to get them if she had. Matthew didn’t say anything for a moment, then, ‘I wonder.’ Joanna looked up at him, her face close to his. ‘You wonder what, Matt?’ ‘Well, up in a little sheltered gully, facing east, running off the main valley of the Waimihi, there’s a tumbledown cottage, built of stone from the riverbeds. They’re set in a sort of cement and have been whitewashed at some time. Inside it’s plastered with clay, papered over. Only two rooms, and the roof is thatched with raupo reeds. You don’t see many of those these days. Used to in pioneer days, I believe. Though this isn’t as old as that. Actually almost all the

thatch is gone. We stuck some tin over it and we keep hay in it. But every year, over a tumbledown wall, some nasturtiums bloom and seed to bloom the next year. They don’t last here — just a few weeks — too many frosts.’ ‘I asked Christine if she knew who’d built it and why, and she told me that Madame Beaudonais-Smith, who is nearly a hundred years old, told her that when Sally Macpherson lived up here she and her man built it to take their children to for a pretence holiday.’ ‘I suppose they couldn’t afford to take them to the sea. But in the good weather, her husband would be out among his sheep and she and the children would be able to look out on a different view. They’d look east and north, instead of south and west.’ He looked back at the page. ‘I wonder if her husband built it for her because she loved this poem so? Could be.’ Joanna’s born eyes were dreamy. ‘I’m sure he did. I’d love to see it.’ Then she gave her head a little shake. ‘Oh, how stupid of me! Because I never will. The holidays they’d spend up there would be in the December summertime, wouldn’t they? I’ll only know Heronscrag in winter. I’ll never see the rare white heron flying down to the lake.’ Matthew, watching her, said, ‘You’ve seen it at the worst time of all.’ Joanna dropped her eyes quickly. ‘The worst time of all,’ she agreed. ‘Well, I must away and make some supper. The festivities are over. Back to reality tomorrow.’

Hew looked up. ‘All I want for supper is some more of that bread, Joanna, bread-and-cheese.’ They all had bread-and-cheese and went to bed. Joanna stood a long time at her window, her eyes taking in that moon over Mount Erebus, a cluster of stars she couldn’t name over Thunderclap Peak, the Two Thumb range, the weird circle of the Witches’ Cauldron, vast, brooding white wastes with never the light of a window in a house to break the darkness. She listened to the ceaseless sound... the tiny streams rushing downhill to join the mighty rivers... that frozen crust was slowly but steadily thawing. They probably wouldn’t get another fall before this one had thawed. She heard a sheep cough from the big shed, the wind sough in the larches and pines. She knew they often had late snow- falls up here, but the men thought it was over for the time being. The next fall would be too late to keep Joanna Marlowe here. The worst time of all, Matthew had said. How strange to call it worst, this incredible beauty. What must it be like then, in that summer in December? Matthew had said once that this terrain was devilish hard on women. That some just couldn’t take it and that he, for one, would not blame them. But one woman had loved it even as Joanna did. ‘The two of us there by the side of the hearth

And the dark lonely night creeping up to the door Your smile and your handclasp, Oh! man of my heart— I am asking no more.’ She, Joanna, would ask no more than that. The lonely mountains and the lonely night creeping up to their door. And Matthew. But Matthew was bound to Christine, who, though she sounded tough and possessive, at least was the right woman to share his life here. She too, knew and loved the mountains. And she owned Heronscrag.

CHAPTER TEN MATTHEW was very taciturn the next morning. Joanna remarked on it to Flynn when she heard Matthew go along to his office. Flynn said, ‘Yes, I thought so. Of course he’s got a lot on his mind. It’s been a hell of a year and with a morning like this,’ he waved at the brightness outside, ‘the thaw could be sudden and disastrous. And he hates like mad to let us go up into the dangers when he’s not along.’ ‘Why won’t he go?’ asked Joanna, but knew the answer even as she spoke. ‘Oh, I see... because of me. And I’m not used to these conditions. He dare not leave me alone with the children. Anything might happen.’ Flynn said gently, ‘It would be just the same, Jo, if Marguerite were here. He’s had, as I said, a hell of a year. He dared not leave her either. Though this is worse than anything we had earlier. But there were a few freshes in the river. Fact is, he won’t put the Awatipua between himself and the homestead when you and the kids are in it. We could ford the Awatipua for sure today. But if the sun stays out and the thaw sets in, we’d be cut off.’ Joanna said, ‘And it’s necessary for you to get up the Awatipua Valley soon?’ ‘Yep. There are bound to be sheep up there. The ones on the sunnier faces will be okay, but there’ll be some caught under the overhanging banks. They

survive fairly well that way, but they’ll get swept away and drowned when those gulleys become torrents in the thaw. Matt’s trying to decide now. We offered to go.’ Joanna felt a tide of feeling wash over her. These men always took their lives in their hands. Rocks were icy, shingle fans treacherous, rivers and streams unpredictable. Conditions were at best uncomfortable; at the worst almost unbearable. She put out a hand to Flynn. ‘Oh, Flynn, if you do go, be careful, all of you. Extra careful. Matt’s the sort to suffer terribly if anything happened to you when he wasn’t with you. Perhaps this still isn’t the place for women. They hamper a man.’ Flynn caught her hand, squeezed it. ‘Oh, Jo, don’t! Don’t get those ideas into your head. If you only knew what it was like to come in last night and see you there — with that meal ready. We’re a poor lot without a woman round.’ He bent his head, kissed her lightly on the cheek nearest his, and, as if a little surprised at himself, went quickly out of the room, to collide with Matthew in the doorway. Matthew must have wanted Flynn, not Joanna, because he went away with him. At eleven the three men were over the river. Matthew went down with them to see them safely over. Joanna had helped them pack a vast quantity of

food, pressing all the bread on them, saying that they themselves would make out with scones and she’d bake more bread tomorrow. It wouldn’t be half such an anxiety this time. When Matthew returned to the station he was very quiet. Joanna said to him, ‘How long will they be? I mean if the thaw sets in in real earnest, will the river keep them up there indefinitely?’ ‘Shouldn’t think so. Once the thaw sets in — at this time of year — it will be swift and sudden. Anyway, the Awatipua always subsides before the Waimihi, so don’t worry. Flynn will be back before I can get you out and Brownie in.’ His tone was unmistakably sarcastic, even savage. Joanna put the plate she was drying down and swung round on him. ‘What’s the matter with you? Why Flynn? There are three of them up there, aren’t there?’ He had a curl to his lip and his blue eyes were frosty. ‘Oh, please don’t pretend with me, Joanna. You know perfectly well what I mean. I saw Flynn kiss you. For heaven’s sake don’t snarl our lives up any more than you’ve done already. And don’t read too much into Flynn’s attentions either. He’s a decent lad and I don’t want him hurt. ‘We live in a womanless world up here and I suppose you’ve gone to our heads a bit. But don’t do any lasting mischief. Besides which, I think it’s time you began to remember you have other loyalties that you seem to have

forgotten. This is an unreal sort of world for you — and it seems to have gone to your head. Your world is thirteen thousand miles away — don’t forget that. And leave us just as you found us. It’s not good for any high-country man to get bowled over by a city girl. It unsettles him.’ It was too much for Joanna. She just blazed. ‘Matthew Greenwood, you’re the most arrogant, horrible man I’ve ever met! I don’t know where I am with you. One moment you’re as comradely and friendly as can be, the next morose and sarcastic. What you saw didn’t mean a thing — it just means Flynn is a demonstrative, uncomplicated sort of a boy. That was the most brotherly kiss you could possibly imagine. One that I’ll treasure the memory of... not because it stirred any unholy passions in either him, or me, but because we shared a moment of pure understanding and friendliness.’ ‘Look, you’re stuck with me and I’m stuck with you and there isn’t a thing we can do about it. We’ll just endure it to the end and be thankful when we take leave of each other! There have been times I’ve come close to admiring you more than I’ve admired any man in my life before — do you know I’ve been deeply sorry because you’re going to marry a woman who is possessive and who holds the purse strings. But now I think it serves you — and her — right. You’re too moody by far and as suspicious of motives as she is. I just hope the snow melts like fury and that the rivers carry it away in double quick time. Every moment I spend here is a moment too long!’ And she flung the teatowel down and rushed to her room.

By mutual but unspoken consent they kept up a façade of friendliness in front of the children. Joanna devoted herself to them, playing games of snakesand-ladders which she hated, and Ludo, which she loved, and in attacking the housework with great vigour. Anything to keep her thoughts at bay. Her hopes about the weather looked like being realized. Hourly the sound of the swelling streams increased. The snow round the house melted and rose the pool that was their swimming pool in summer, to a high level. They still had to do a vast amount of feeding out, but the animals around the homestead rejoiced in being outside again. Joanna was absolutely amazed to see, among the waterlogged grasses of the garden, daffodil spears pushing up. Sometimes they could hear the distant awe-inspiring rumble of avalanches and she always sensed Matthew’s tenseness then, for his men. The brightness of the snow made it necessary to wear dark glasses outside. The news they continued to get on the battery radio told them that the disruptions to power and telephones had been on a colossal scale, but all services were rapidly being repaired. The plains had suffered the worst stock losses since 1945. Certain Government aid was being given to those worst hit. Matthew said, ‘I think we could be prepared any day now to hear our telephone ring again. I’ve inspected our lines and they’re intact this side.

They’re bound to get on to the repairs across river soon. We’ve never been cut off this length of time as long as I can remember.’ ‘That’s good,’ said Joanna, ‘the sooner I get in touch with Maria now, the better. If I’m out by the end of the week then I can fly straight to Wellington and join them there.’ She swallowed and added, ‘What about the children? Can you be sure Mrs. Ashdowne will be able to come over? Or will their mother be well enough to return?’ ‘I wouldn’t dare risk that. She’ll need to be within reach of doctors for long enough. Poor Marguerite, she’ll be nearly desperate for news of the children. Though thinking Brownie is here, she’ll certainly not be half as upset as if she had known they were with a stranger.’ He added hastily, ‘Not that she could have looked after them any better than you have.’ ‘How very magnanimous of you,’ said Joanna sarcastically, walking away. Later that night Matthew told her that he had made up his mind that when he took her across the river he’d take the children too, and get them down to Timaru, Marguerite was to convalesce with an old school friend there and he was sure that between them they could manage the children. ‘I’ve not told the kids yet. This friend of their mother’s is awfully kind, but she’s a perfectionist in the house and consequently a bit fussy. But it’s the best I can do. I have a feeling Mrs. Ashdowne might not get back as soon as she thought.

I know this sister-in-law of hers is very delicate and with the brother dying so suddenly, she may decide to stay for a while with her. I felt that at the time. In fact she said, “If anything happens that I can’t get back, will you take the children to Timaru?”’ Suddenly all Joanna’s resentment and hurt fell from her. Only the children’s welfare mattered. She said slowly, ‘I hate to think of them being unsettled. To look after three children as well as a convalescent patient might be too much for Marguerite’s friend, and it would worry Marguerite if this woman is so house-proud. Might retard her recovery. Maria is spending a month in Australia on the way back. I could fly to join her there. That would give the children’s mother time to get perfectly well again. If it would help at all, I’ll stay on till then.’ There was a long silence, so she knew he was tempted to close with her offer. Then he said, ‘Thank you for suggesting that. It was very kind of you, but isn’t it time you faced up to your own personal responsibilities? You have other people to consider, too, haven’t you? And besides, I imagine that as soon as it’s convenient to come and see what damage we’ve suffered, Chris will come up. I want you out before then, remember?’ Joanna bit her lip. ‘I’d completely forgotten that situation,’ she said. ‘I’ll go just as soon as you can get me over the river.’

He nodded. ‘I rode down to inspect both rivers. I reckon I’ll get a signal from Number One Hut tonight to say they’ll be back over tomorrow. Another two days and even the Waimihi should be subsiding. Barring thunderstorms, that is.’ It didn’t look like a thundery sky. Joanna caught herself up on the regretful thought. To bolster up her resolve she asked crisply, ‘What about the airstrips? Can they not be used yet?’ He shook his head. ‘Heavens, no. They’re really sodden. There are enough risks flying among these mountains as it is. Even if the phone were restored and I could phone Richards’ place, I wouldn’t ask it.’ Joanna said, a tremble in her voice, ‘Sorry. That sounded callous, as if I were thinking only of my own inconvenience. It was just that I suddenly wanted to get away before there was any chance of getting Christine here.’ He sounded mollified. ‘Oh, not to worry. She can’t come across the river without letting us know. We have to go and get her with the truck.’ Joanna made an impatient movement. ‘Well, a lot of help that would be. If I was still here when she rang from the other side you couldn’t smuggle me across without her knowing, could you?’ He tightened his lips. ‘My dear girl, very few people just arrive on the bank — people who know this area — on the off-chance of conditions being perfect. They’re aware of the moods of the river and make sure before they set off

from Timaru — or from Fairlie at the latest — whether or not they can make a crossing. People just don’t drop in on us.’ But that was exactly where Matthew Greenwood, for once, was wrong.

The men did signal later that night, that they would be crossing about noon the next day. Well, that was that. Time was closing in on Joanna. Soon this would be only a memory. If she had hoped that with only the two of them in the homestead, bar the children, they could have talked their differences out, well, she’d lost. Tomorrow the men would be here and the day after, or two days after, the Waimihi might be fordable again. They had had their supper and Matt was still reading. Joanna had washed up their dishes, put the oatmeal to soak, and then thought of something. She was going to take one thing away with her. A copy of that poem she liked so much, The Wish. It would remain an unfulfilled wish for ever, but sometimes she’d take it out and relive the sweetness of that moment when they had read it together. She had put those scrapbooks back where she had found them. There was only a stumpy candle left in the storeroom. She must put a new one in it tomorrow. She lit it, noticed it guttering, and hoped it would last till she got the book down.

She got out the stepladder and in the wavering light of the candle didn’t notice she had put one leg on a nail that had fallen to the floor. She got up, moved the things in front of the scrapbooks, took them out, and turned to come down. She felt the stepladder swing, made a wild clutch for the shelf, missed it but swished a row of jars off it and she and the jars and the stepladder fell with an appalling crash to the floor. Joanna realized three things almost simultaneously. That she had cut her arm; that she had put the candle out; that she had not broken any bones! Then she heard Matthew running. He flung open the door, uttered something that didn’t shock her in the circumstances, rushed away again and was back with a torch in what seemed only seconds. She said, ‘It’s all right, Matt. I’m not badly hurt. Be careful where you tread, for heaven’s sake!’ It was a good thing the torch was a powerful one. There were fragments of glass and splashes of jam everywhere. Joanna was spread-eagled over the stepladder. Matthew stood astride her and said urgently, bending above her, ‘Have you broken any bones? Have you? Can I lift you?’ ‘I’m okay. Perhaps you can just help me up.’

‘Don’t be silly. You might slip and cut yourself. Look, put your arms round my neck. I’ll lift you clear.’ She did exactly as she was bid. He carried her out and put her down on the kitchen couch. Just as he did so, he felt something warm running down his neck and knew what it was. He seized her arm and saw the jagged cut in her lemon sweater and the wet, increasing stain on her forearm. Gently he pushed the sleeve up, pursed his lips when he saw it, and went for his first-aid kit. Joanna knew he was almost as good as a doctor; had to be, up here. He had a doctor friend who spent many holidays at Heronscrag and kept Matthew up to date with all the information and supplies that he could need. He cleansed the wound expertly and held a pad on tightly. Then he said in a most matter-of-fact tone, that told her he wanted her to take it in the same way, ‘You realize it will have to be stitched, I suppose? I’ve got a local injection here. That’s all you’ll feel.’ Joanna squinted at it. It was so near her elbow it was hard to see. ‘Yes, I can see that it will have to be stitched, Matthew. Go ahead.’ He’d had quite a bit of experience stitching dogs and cows and once or twice gashes on shepherds, so he worked quickly and quietly and with confidence.

He put in four stitches, bound up her arm and only then said, ‘Phew! Thanks for not passing out on me!’ Joanna said indignantly, ‘As if I would! Women are more tough than men give them credit for.’ He nodded, then said, ‘But when I think of where you might have cut yourself, I realize it could have been a whole heap worse.’ Suddenly Joanna howled with laughter, irresistible laughter. ‘I’ll say! After all, I was sitting on layers of glass!’ Matthew stared. ‘I didn’t mean that — you priceless idiot! — I mean it could have been in a vital spot. You might have cut an artery, you might have — oh, Jo, stop it, this is no time for laughing,’ and, just to prove that, he succumbed himself. The laugh did them both good. Then Matthew sobered up and said anxiously, ‘I say, you aren’t getting hysterical, are you?’ Indignation showed again on Joanna’s face. ‘Am I the type to get hysterical simply because I’ve cut myself? Am I?’ He gave her the sort of look she couldn’t hold. ‘No, you aren’t, Jo,’ he said slowly. ‘Some girls would, but not you. Oh, Jo, I died about a thousand deaths till I got to you. I thought you’d killed yourself! It—’ he got no further. He was

sitting sideways on the couch where she lay. He bent over her swiftly, slipped a hand under her head, raising it slightly, and kissed her, full on the mouth. Not a tender, compassionate kiss, which would have meant very little more than Flynn’s had, but a long, overcharged kiss that demanded, and got, response. Then slowly he raised his mouth from hers, gently laid her head back, and sat looming above her, looking into the shadows of the kitchen. Joanna couldn’t speak, dared not. She must not break from this spell. Matthew’s shirt and neck were all bloody, she herself was sticky and filthy from the storeroom floor which was always muddy from their shoes this weather. Her hair was standing on end, it too was sticky with jam... but Matthew had kissed her! Suddenly he said in a bewildered tone, ‘Now look what we’ve got ourselves into! I was afraid of this. We’ve been thrown too much together!’ Joanna pulled herself together in a flash. It was a sticky situation in more ways than one. She must redeem it for Matthew’s sake. He was feeling guilty, disloyal. There was too much at stake for him. He mustn’t break with Christine. His whole future depended upon it. You just couldn’t think of Matthew apart from Heronscrag.

She didn’t sit up, because that would have brought her too close to him again. So she lay there, her brown eyes dark in her white face, regarding him, and managed to say lightly, ‘Oh, don’t let’s make too much of it, Matthew. We’ve been cooped up together too long, as you say. We each of us have other loyalties, haven’t we? Let’s just forget it. Both of us. It — it was just — just triggered off by — shock, I suppose. Help me off this couch and I’ll get supper.’ He seemed loth to move for a moment. She thought he sought for words, but then, not finding them, got up. Then he turned and said, smiling a little, but without real mirth, ‘Well, you might not be the hysterical type, but you have, as you said, had a shock. I’ll make the supper. Then after that you can go to bed and I’ll clean that room up. No, stay right where you are. I’d better give you sugar in your coffee. Doesn’t matter if you don’t like it. You need it. And so do I, by Jove!’ He stopped halfway to the stove, swung round and said, ‘Joanna, what were you doing in that storeroom at this time of night, anyway?’ Joanna was annoyed to find her cheeks hot. But she said in a tone as matterof-fact as she could manage, ‘I thought events might move fairly fast from now on... the river subside and the grader move in. And I might forget to copy it out. That was all.’ She looked at her bandaged arm. ‘And look where it’s got me!’ He said slowly, ‘You liked that poem, didn’t you?’

She said, ‘Yes. Matt, don’t make me drink coffee with sugar in it, please. I can’t stand it. A sweet biscuit with it would do just as well, wouldn’t it? And after we’ve had it I’m going to help you mop up that appalling mess. Glass all mixed up with jam! Oh, dear, I do wish I hadn’t done it.’ ‘Do you?’ said Matthew, the blue eyes alight in a way she had never seen them before. Then when she looked away and didn’t, wouldn’t answer, he turned away and rinsed out the coffee-pot. He gave in to her insistence on helping him. They were more filthy than ever when they finished, but at least the floor was reasonably safe now. Joanna admitted her arm was sore and that a few places that would show bruises later were beginning to make themselves felt, but they both knew it could have been a lot worse. Matthew hadn’t uttered one word of reproach, even before he found the nail. Most people, under such circumstances, wouldn’t have been able to resist saying ‘Couldn’t you have been more careful?’ Matthew filled her hot-water bottle and put it in her bed. He turned at the door and looked at her, leaning against the jamb. Joanna, turning the counterpane further back, caught his gaze. ‘Yes, Matt?’ she asked.

He said slowly, ‘I’m saying this to you from a distance. I’m sorry I’ve said things to you I shouldn’t have said. It was because of this... this feeling between us, Jo. I was fighting an attraction I knew I had no right to feel. That’s all. Good night, Jo, and... and God Bless.’ It was really his good-bye to her. When she left here, he would take her car through the river, and one of the men would take the truck through, with the children, and one would follow with a spare horse for riding back. And they would have to say their final goodbye in front of them all. This, then, was the moment they would both remember. This, and that one in the kitchen, when all magic had been expressed in a kiss. It was all they would ever have. They would never have that other, deeper, true fulfilment. Something that had been wakened in Joanna for the very first time, at the touch of Matthew’s lips on hers. They would never have long years lived out together. Just these two moments. Though she knew that there were many lonely moments ahead of her, lonelier than any she had ever known because of that fragment of time when she had glimpsed just what life could be like, for two people in love, nevertheless, tonight had brought rich compensation. She knew that, given other circumstances, they could have met, loved, married...

CHAPTER ELEVEN JOANNA felt stiff and sore the next morning in places she’d not felt the night before, especially the backs of her legs where they had crashed on the rungs of the stepladder, though that was what had saved her from being cut worse. The children regarded her as a heroine. ‘Gosh,’ said Toby, ‘fancy us missing all that! It must’ve made a wizard crash yet we never heard a thing. And I’ve never seen anyone stitched up!’ ‘Remind me to cut myself next time before you go to bed, Toby,’ said Joanna, laughing, ‘although if it does happen at night, I’ll get Matt to wake you up.’ ‘Well, you’d better be pretty slick about it,’ Toby returned. ‘You haven’t got much more time here, have you? Matt says the river’s going down pretty quick.’ Philippa made a smothered sound and rushed from the room. Joanna and Matt’s eyes met, startled. Matt said, pushing his plate away, ‘I think I’d better handle that,’ and went after his small cousin. He said, when he came back quite some time later, ‘She’ll be okay. She’s making the beds to give her time to get over it and it will help you too. You’re very stiff, aren’t you? Kids hate change and upset. And they’ve had so

much of that this year. I’ve told her there’s nothing we can do about it. That you must go back to England.’ Joanna said, ‘She’ll be all right. She’ll forget all about me when her mother gets home and, later, her father.’ All Matt replied to that was, ‘When I get back from feeding out, I think you should have a rest, Joanna. The house can go. You look all in.’ She said impatiently, ‘I’m all right, thanks. And I can’t. I’ve got bread to make. Can’t you smell the yeast? I’m making a double batch so that if you get me over the river sooner than you think, you’ll have enough to tide you over till the power comes on again and you can stock up the deep-freeze. The homemade bread stays fresh twice as long anyway. Now, please don’t object.’ She grinned at him. ‘It’s the only thing I’ve ever really excelled at. I’m all puffed up with pride about my bread. You’ve been very forbearing about my mistakes. When I get back to London I’m going to continue doing a bit of cooking.’ He said sharply, ‘I thought Maria had a cook who couldn’t bear people in her kitchen?’ She didn’t reply right away. Then she said, ‘I won’t be living with Maria.’ ‘No, of course not. I forgot. You’re very wise to insist on living separately, Joanna.’ And he turned quickly away and went out of the door to put his farm boots on.

She stared after him, brows knitted. He’d forgotten what? She was sure she hadn’t said to him that when she got back to London she was going to break completely away. Get a flat of her own, live her own life. Tell Maria that although she’d continue with her secretarial work, she would not live in. She secretly hoped Maria might flare up and dismiss her. Then she could take a different sort of post altogether. Some post where there were children. But she was sure she’d not said anything to Matt. Joanna decided she’d better not ask him what he had meant. Much wiser to keep things more impersonal for these last few days. Philippa, an apt pupil, did most of the kneading to save Joanna’s arm. It was a glorious day. The ground was actually drying now. ‘Might have been different had this happened in the depths of winter,’ said Matt, ‘late June or July, but September will soon be here, and though it stays cold up here, it really is the first month of spring.’ Today, under a cloudless sky, the Lake of the Rare White Heron was blue again where earlier it had been gunmetal grey. ‘Do you ever get white herons at the lake itself,’ asked Joanna, for something to say, ‘or do they just fly over?’ ‘Yes, but not often. I mean they aren’t there in any numbers. This native white heron is very rare in New Zealand. They almost died out, but are on the increase now. That was why, when the Queen first came to New Zealand, the

first reigning monarch to do so, the Maoris gave her the name Te Kotuku, translating it into “The Rare White Heron of a Single Flight.”’ Joanna was enchanted. ‘Oh, that’s simply beautiful. I’ll always remember that. I must practise saying it properly. The syllables all accented equally. Ko-tookoo.’ He nodded almost absently. ‘Yes, that’s right. And every vowel a separate syllable. That’s why our Maori language is so melodious. Like running water.’ He was restless till the time came to take the truck up the valley to meet the men when they came across the river. She supposed it was because there were always hazards in crossing the rivers. Horses and men had been swept away before now. The tracks to the Awatipu Ford were well drained now. That was one thing, the heavy shingle made for excellent drainage. Just before he went he said, ‘All right, kids, you can come. Joanna, I’m sorry I can’t take you. If it wasn’t for Michael’s sleep, I would. But at least it will give you a chance of a lie-down with no one romping round.’ Joanna didn’t tell him her bread wasn’t out yet and that in any case she wanted to do some last things because any time now they might be able to get across the river. Joanna was still woefully slow at the housework. She wanted the work up-to-date as far as was possible.

She had to school herself not to stop and stare out of the windows... to impress every loved scene upon her memory for ever. She almost leapt in the air when suddenly the telephone rang. Good grief, the wires must be repaired! She’d have to answer it. She couldn’t do anything else. It could be Marguerite, who was probably out of hospital by now and longing, even desperate, for news of her children. Joanna, hoping feverishly that it was not Christine, picked up the phone as gingerly as if it had been a snake and said in a crisp tone that might sound like the long-in- the-tooth martinet Matthew had described her as, ‘Good afternoon, Heronscrag here.’ There was quite a pause, then a voice, certainly not Christine’s, said in a bewildered tone, ‘Who is speaking, please? It’s Penny Beaudonais-Smith here, of Dragonshill.’ Joanna had no time to think. She said in a matter-of-fact tone, ‘My name’s Marlowe. Joanna Marlowe. I’ve been cut off here with the snow. I’m sorry if you wanted Mr. Greenwood. He’s up the valley with the men.’ No mention of the fact that the men had been away from the homestead for three nights. This was that redoubtable Penny Smith... the one who was the best cook in the district. The one who was regarded as not only a paragon, but a heroine. She’d dragged her husband for miles on a sledge once, when he was

injured and there was no one at the homestead to help except the old, old grandmother. The voice didn’t sound a bit formidable. It had a little-girl quality. ‘Oh, I’m so glad! That meant there was a woman there to look after the children. We’ve been really worried. We heard — just before the storm — that Brownie had lost her brother and gone to Auckland. We felt terrible, knowing Matt would have the responsibility of the youngsters all on his own. How come you were there — oh, do forgive me — I sound like a really nosey neighbour, but—’ Joanna responded warmly to the genuine interest and concern in the voice. ‘To be quite candid, I got stranded in the river. I’m afraid I’m not very knowledgeable about such things. I’m from England. I wandered over the first fords — they were very low — and began taking photos. It was really stupid of me. But at least, when I was marooned here, I was able to look after the children. Yes, they’re fine. They haven’t had a cold even. Was your electricity off too?’ ‘Yes, not that I mind lamplight — it’s cosy, but oh dear, the extra work! You really haven’t time to enjoy it. All your stuff in the deep-freeze would go off too, of course. Tell me, how did you manage for bread? I mean I’m sure Matt wouldn’t keep up with yeast supplies. I do because Grand’mère — Charles’s grandmother who is nearly a hundred years old — still loves her little French rolls for breakfast. But your bread would last only a certain time, wouldn’t it?’

Joanna couldn’t keep the note of pride out of her voice. ‘I found some old jars of Yeasto-Flip in the storeroom. It made really wonderful bread.’ Penny said warmly, ‘Well, I reckon you were the best thing that could have happened to Matt just at that time. You must be quite a cook.’ Joanna burst out laughing. ‘Oh, I’m not, Mrs. Beaudonais-Smith. Anything but. I’d never as much as cooked a poached egg in my life. What these poor men have suffered... when my custard was too thin I threw in some more custard powder dry — you ought to have seen the lumps! And I made a rice pudding with a whole pound of rice and it ran out of the oven door to meet me.’ Penny started to giggle. ‘Oh, how gorgeous; I must tell Charles and Grand’mère that. Grand’mère had to learn it all the hard way too. You and she must have a chat about your attempts. Anyway, even experienced cooks make mistakes, even burn things. I absent-mindedly thickened a stew with icing-sugar instead of cornflour the other day, and that’s not the sort of mistake you can do anything about! All the more credit to you for having the courage to attempt bread-making. I say, don’t call me Mrs. BeaudonaisSmith. Penny will do. I’m longing to meet you. Hilary and I — that’s my sisterin-law — love meeting new people. We see so few. How long are you staying? Morwyn Richards could perhaps bring you and Matt over here. I suppose Brownie will get back soon as the river’s down? We’re miles distant by road, but a plane takes only a few minutes.’

Joanna said, and meant it, ‘I’d just love to meet you, but I’m afraid I’ll have to get back over the river as soon as possible. My employer is in New Zealand and will be leaving for England via Australia very soon. How are you all over there? Matt and the men have mentioned you. I was very keen to know about the other families situated like us — like Heronscrag, I mean.’ ‘So they told me about the Richards at Four Peaks and about Dragonshill. There are two homesteads, aren’t there? And Hilary and Francis and their family live in one, and you and your husband and his grandmother in the other. Is that right? And you have a son of four and a baby girl of exactly Michael’s age?’ ‘Yes, Charlotte was born the very same day as Michael and Gregory will be five in summer. Well, I suppose I mustn’t keep you. You’ll be wanting to ring Marguerite and let her know about the family, now we’re connected again. I’ll ring you again tomorrow. We have to be neighbours-by-phone up here. But if anything worries you, about the children or cooking or anything, just give me a ring. I may not know all the answers, but I do know all the problems.’ When Joanna replaced the phone she knew a great regret that she would never meet Penny Beaudonais-Smith in person. She’d like to see the face that would match that charming voice. She’d like to meet Ruihi, Morwyn’s wife, and Verona, who was married to Morwyn’s brother Gwillym. She, Joanna,

who had felt a misfit all her life, felt at one with these people. They spoke her language. But even though the number of Marguerite’s Timaru friend was pencilled on the telephone list beside the phone, Joanna would not ring her. Matthew would do that and trust to luck that Marguerite did not ask to speak to Brownie. She hoped she had done right in speaking to Penny as she had done. She had taken it all right. But then she wasn’t warped as Christine Dunmuirson was. Joanna took out her bread and put it on a grid on the table, covering it with a square of organdy that New Zealanders called a ‘throw-over’. She had a peep at Michael, still deeply asleep, and came back to the kitchen. An unusual-for-here sound smote her ears. Aircraft. Did that mean Morwyn Richards had his plane up? Could be. But he wouldn’t — couldn’t land here yet. She thought Morwyn too experienced a pilot and mountaineer to attempt it. Perhaps it was one of the planes from the Hermitage that took tourists up and landed on skis fitted under it when there was enough snow on the glaciers for such landings. She went outside, gazing up at the cerulean sky, a hand shading her eyes against the sun. Ah, there it was... black against the blue... oh, not a plane, a

helicopter. She knew from the menfolk that helicopters were used a lot now that there was such a good market for venison overseas. New Zealand forests .were over-run with deer and they had to be kept down to prevent erosion and also for the preservation of certain native birds whose natural foods could, eventually, disappear because of the deer. There were certain rendezvous, deep in the forests, where deer-cullers and helicopters met. There were special freezing units for this. And of course helicopters were, often used in this region for rescue work. Joanna hoped this one was on no such errand. Though it was hardly likely people would be climbing at this time of year. Not that she knew much about it, but there had been nothing on the radio. She was almost inside the house again when she realized how much louder the sound was. She swung round, put up her hand again. Good heavens... but it wasn’t possible! Oh, surely not! That helicopter was coming down on the big dry flat beyond the cottages. It was some distance from the house. Who could it be? And Matthew had said no one ever dropped in! Her heart began a quickened tempo. She said out loud, impatiently, ‘Oh, don’t be, stupid. This probably does happen, in emergencies. It could be some friend of Matt’s anxious about him.’

She stood on the highest terrace to watch it. Anyway, the men would hear it too, and would hurry to meet whoever it was. They might even have the horses over the Awatipua by now. She wondered how long the occupant or occupants of the helicopter would be able to wait. She saw a figure get out and come away from the machine. Must be only the pilot. He was carrying a bag. Suddenly Joanna blinked. That helicopter was taking off again. Must be someone coming to stay. Blank amazement took possession of her. How casual! Then her eyes narrowed. There was something about that figure... what was it? Certainly it was trousered, but that wasn’t a man’s stride. It was a woman’s walk, rather an elegant walk, even on this terrain and in, presumably, brogues. Could it — could it be Marguerite? Had she recovered extremely quickly and, desperate to find out how her children were, had got a pilot friend to fly her in? Perhaps even chartered the plane. Then she realized how silly that was. After an operation on a lung, they wouldn’t permit her. Cold fingers clutched about Joanna’s heart. It could be Christine, the cool, fearless, possessive Christine! Joanna steadied herself. It didn’t have to be. Nevertheless, she thought she’d walk to whatever she had to face. True to her nature, she first tip-toed inside and peeped at Michael. He hadn’t stirred. And

anyway, she’d be only a few minutes. That was all she would have to get herself steeled for whatever was coming. She descended the rough stone steps that led down the terraces, her head high, her demeanour easy. She thought it must be Marguerite. Perhaps she hadn’t let her doctor know she was attempting this. Nobody else would bring just an overnight bag with her. Most of Marguerite’s clothes were here. Besides, this woman, from her walk, seemed to be about the age Marguerite would be... mid-thirties. Though of course, Christine could be that. Joanna had by now realized that she could be older than Matt by a few years. He was thirty, she knew. It had in it the atmosphere of a film shot... two women silently advancing towards each other in all that vastness. Yes, it must be Marguerite because Matt had said his cousin was fair like Michael and the sun was glinting on a fair head. They continued to walk towards each other over the hard, tussocky ground. Joanna felt a little more relaxed. If it were Marguerite she might be so grateful her children had had a woman to look after them, she’d accept it as naturally as Penny Beaudonais-Smith had. Then, as they neared each other, Joanna realized it wasn’t a blonde head, it was a white head and belonged to a more-than-middle-aged woman. Joanna felt tension leave her. This was neither Marguerite nor Christine. It

must be Mrs. Richards, mother of Gwillym and Morwyn. She was very airminded, she knew. She quickened her steps, smiled, said just before she reached the woman, ‘Oh, hullo, I expect you’re vastly surprised to see me here. I’m—’ But she was interrupted, and not smilingly. ‘I know perfectly well who you are,’ the woman said in an icy tone, and her mouth was a tight coral line. ‘You are Joanna Marlowe and you are supposed to be thirty-six, long in the tooth, a martinet... and fat, very fat!’ Joanna boggled and kept boggling. That — that was what Matthew in a mad moment had said to his fiancée... to Christine... but— The woman stood, one hand in her jacket pocket, watching Joanna’s expression. Joanna simply couldn’t speak. The words were stuck in her throat. The woman smiled mirthlessly. ‘Taken the wind out of your sails, hasn’t it? Thought you were cut off from the rest of the world, didn’t you? My name is Dunmuirson, Christine Dunmuirson. Where is Matt?’

CHAPTER TWELVE THAT unloosened Joanna’s tongue. ‘No,’ she cried, ‘you couldn’t be!’ Then realized, with a sickening dismay, that she couldn’t go on from there. Because if this woman — this woman of — well, at least fifty said she was Christine Dunmuirson, she just must be. Only it didn’t, couldn’t make sense. Christine Dunmuirson naturally said ‘And why couldn’t I be?’ Joanna was stumped. She just couldn’t say ‘Because no one your age could possibly be engaged to Matt.’ She gazed at Christine like a rabbit fascinated by a stoat. She had to say something. ‘I — well, I imagined something — I mean someone — quite different.’ An ironic smile touched the coral mouth. ‘Well, that makes two of us, doesn’t it? It looks to me as if Matthew has a lot of explaining to do.’ Joanna gulped. She felt constricted, suffocated. ‘You — you mustn’t blame Matt,’ she said wildly. ‘He couldn’t help it. It was my fault. He didn’t want to worry you. He — he didn’t invite me here. I sort of got washed up on him. He rescued me from the river. I’m such a ninny. I’d no idea what New Zealand rivers were like. Honestly, he was just furious with me. And. then, of course, we got snowed in.’

Christine Dunmuirson put her overnight bag down, took a packet of cigarettes from her pocket, put one between her lips, lit it and inhaled as if she had been desperate for a smoke. She said, ‘You were at the Hermitage, weren’t you? Matt’s often down there. I suppose that’s where he met you.’ Joanna said, ‘We’d never met. You may not believe me, but my first sight of him was when he rode his horse to where I was trying to get my car out of the river and swore at me.’ Christine Dunmuirson looked unimpressed. ‘Well, it made quite a handy setup, didn’t it?’ And before Joanna could reply she asked, ‘Tell me, do the shepherds still sleep up at the house, or has Matt moved them to one of the cottages?’ That made Joanna mad clean through. With icy-cold anger, not hot. She lifted her chin and looked the other woman straight in the eyes. She wouldn’t take this. It wasn’t fair to Matt. ‘Yes, they do still sleep at the house, Mrs. Dunmuirson, that is when they are home. When I arrived here — if you can call it an arrival, being hauled out of a rapidly flooded river — they were up the Awatipua Valley for a few nights. Then later, when that river permitted, they went up to Number One Hut, after the snow, to save your stock. Matthew couldn’t go even though he was fretting to be with them, because he’s got far too much sense

of responsibility to leave his cousin’s children with a greenhorn like me who had never had anything to do with children before!’ ‘And let me tell you this, Mrs. Dunmuirson... that very first night, because he’s such a gentleman and knew very well that a girl in my position might feel very nervous, he hunted up the key to my room and gave it to me. The key I’ve never bothered to turn because my instincts told me I’d never need to. I think you’ve known Matt for a very long time, yet you can’t trust him. I’d be ashamed to be as distrustful and suspicious as you are!’ She had the satisfaction of seeing Christine Dunmuirson look taken aback. Serve her right! She was probably used to people being afraid of her. But no one was going to run Matt down to Joanna. She plunged on. ‘I’ll be away from here in a couple of days, I hope, and on my way back to England. I’ll be out of it. This episode won’t affect my life — but if you let it come between you and Matt — if you punish him because of nothing he’s done, but simply because you have a bee in your bonnet about scandal, I’m sorry for you. It will be a grave injustice!’ Christine Dunmuirson recovered herself, ‘My dear girl, what heroics! You sound too naive for words. I’ve lived a good deal longer than you have and I know men. We can’t get on without them, but we don’t have to be too gullible.’ Joanna said, a fine edge of scorn on her voice, ‘Disillusionments have happened to other people too, but we don’t have to let them colour the rest

of our lives or treat all men as untrustworthy because of what happened to us in our childhood. I didn’t have a very happy childhood, but it hasn’t made me bitter.’ Christine tossed away her cigarette, put her foot on the butt. She looked genuinely bewildered. ‘But who’s talking about childhood? I mean my childhood?’ Joanna stopped being angry for a moment. She said uncertainly, ‘Well, wasn’t it? I mean Matt said—’ She stopped. What exactly had Matt said? ‘Go on, Miss Marlowe.’ ‘Well, I’m not sure really. But he told me it would cause trouble if you knew I was here and — and when I flew off the handle about it, said it wasn’t your fault, it was just that you had a complex about something that happened to you long, long ago.’ Now Christine would be more furious because they had discussed her. But what matter? She was angry enough already. And she had asked. Christine said thinly, ‘Well, perhaps I can be thankful Mutt didn’t tell you the whole story. Especially as—’ she cut off and said hurriedly, ‘Well, at least he spared me that. It was not in my childhood. It was in my adult life. Tell me, what did you think had happened to me?’

Joanna said slowly, ‘I thought perhaps your father had been unfaithful to your mother and had broken up your home.’ Christine shook her head. ‘No, I don’t think that would have lasted. Children usually grow up thinking they’ll make a much better job of life than their parents did, anyway. Well, we’d better go on up to the house. Where is Matt? I expected him to rush down too.’ Joanna said, a little wearily, ‘He’s at the Awatipua with the truck. They’ll be in soon, I expect. He took Toby and Philippa with him. They’re meeting the men getting back from that side. I should think they’ll hurry. They must have seen the helicopter.’ Christine again gave the thin-lipped smile. ‘He won’t hurry if he has any suspicion it’s me. He’d have binoculars with him. Never goes out without them. He knows he’ll face a showdown when he meets me.’ She gave a sidelong glance at Joanna, but Joanna didn’t see it. She was walking steadily uphill, frowning. She turned and said quietly, ‘He has nothing to face a showdown for. The only thing he deserves is a medal for fishing a thoughtless intruder out of the river. For bearing patiently with a girl absolutely ignorant of cooking and housework and for trying to spare his cousin any anxiety over her children. What is there to put him on the carpet for in that?’

Christine had an answer to that all right. ‘For lying to me about you. I’d like to know why.’ Joanna stopped dead in her tracks and swung round to face her. ‘And whose fault is that but yours? I was as astounded as I could be at his attitude. I’d not expected to find it here where such things could easily happen. If a girl gets marooned in a bachelor establishment then conventions have to go by the board. I couldn’t believe it when he told me what you were like. But I can now I’ve met you. I was amazed at his acceptance of your attitude. It made me realize how much—’ again the words stuck in her throat — ‘how much he cared for you to take it.’ Christine Dunmuirson didn’t answer. They reached the house. Joanna swung the door open. ‘I’ll make you a cup of tea,’ she said flatly. ‘The kettle’s singing. And please don’t think I’m usurping your position. It’s just that I’ve had to do it ever since I got stranded here and you’re probably tired after travelling. But I must just peep at Michael first.’ After she’d found him still sleeping, she stood in the hall for a moment, hands clenched. For all she’d said in Matt’s defence, she was sick inside and disillusioned and heart-sore. This was worse than she had ever imagined. In fact, she couldn’t quite give credence to it yet. Christine Dunmuirson had been a very beautiful woman... she had strikingly beautiful blue eyes and her skin had a youthful glow to it and she held herself well. Her mouth was beautifully

shaped, even if a little hard. Strange how a mouth could give you away. But she was old. Matt was selling his manhood to her for the sake of a high-country station. He couldn’t, couldn’t love her. The other way — a man older than a woman by many years, was quite different. You did hear occasionally of marriages like this, but were they ever marriages for love... with a difference as great as this? Joanna braced herself and went back to make the tea. Christine was in a hard-backed chair up to the table. She had flung back the throw-over from the loaves. ‘Who made these?’ she inquired. ‘I did.’ ‘I thought you said you couldn’t cook?’ ‘I couldn’t, till I got cast up here. Needs must when the devil drives. When the deep freeze stopped working we were in an awful fix. Then I found that Yeasto-Flip.’ Christine showed a little interest. ‘Good God, don’t tell me it was still usable?’ ‘Well, it was still sealed. It was a godsend, even though Philippa and I made it in fear and trembling. I’ll make this tea now.’ She buttered scones and set biscuits out, determined to get things on to an ordinary footing, sat down at the table too, though she felt every mouthful

was choking her. She had her ears pricked forward for the sound of the men returning. Christine said, ‘Now, tell me how you got here — exactly — in the first place. It’s not usual — in fact unknown for people to venture across the river.’ Joanna said, ‘I know that now. I didn’t then. But I’d been staying with my employer at Queenstown and we visited a sheep-station where we had to cross a stream no bigger than this river looked when I came to it. I wanted to take pictures of this homestead — it looked so remote and beautiful — and I had a little picnic. And the river rose behind me. That’s all.’ Christine surveyed her sarcastically. ‘If this homestead were on a road that goes anywhere, I might have been inclined to believe you. Anyone might be forgiven for coming along one of our highways and turning up someone’s drive to photograph a beautiful house, but this road so obviously goes right to the mountains with only the Great Divide beyond. There must have been some reason that brought you. I think you must have met Matt at the Hermitage when he was down for a National Park Board meeting or something. Had you met down there? Did he invite you up here? Or did you just follow him up? I believe girls do these days!’ Joanna met those beautiful, cold eyes steadily. ‘If you’d heard him swearing at me when he discovered me in the river in a hired car you’d have known we’d never met before. All right, I didn’t tell Matt the real reason. I felt it wouldn’t

do a thing to make me more acceptable here, once he told me why my great-uncle left here. He didn’t even know he was talking about a relation of mine. But here’s the reason I came and took photos.’ ‘I thought I was utterly alone in the world. My father died when I was three, my mother when I was five. I was brought up by a complete stranger. Suddenly, a few weeks before we left England, I was traced by my greatuncle. My Great-uncle Henry. I should tell you that my middle name is Dean, then you’ll realize who he was.’ ‘By the time he found me he was a very sick man. We didn’t have a lot of time together, but he told me a bit of his early life when I visited him in hospital. He spoke most of all of Heronscrag. I didn’t know — I had no idea that he had left here under a cloud. When I found out, at the Hermitage, that I was very near here, I decided I’d like to see it, and have some photos to take back with me. It was as simple as that, Mrs. Dunmuirson. Some people have paintings of their ancestral homes. I haven’t anything. Not a single photo of my mother or father even. The woman who foster-mothered me didn’t keep one. She wanted me to become wholly hers. I thought I could have a little selection of coloured snapshots on my wall. Even if the homestead will just show up as a little white and red blob against a gigantic background of crags and mountains, I’ll be able to say to myself, “This was where a forebear of mine once lived.” Mad, isn’t it? Trivial, even, but somehow — at the time — it seemed important to me.’

She looked up from the tablecloth where she had been tracing patterns with her fingers. Her heart sank. Christine Dunmuirson had the strangest, unbelieving look on her face. She continued desperately, ‘I was right on the point of telling Matthew one night — I found an old account book with Uncle Henry’s name on it, you see — when Matthew suddenly told me that Henry Dean hadn’t been much of a character and wasn’t by any means well thought of in these parts. It gave me a shock. I’d taken him for a fine, upright character. So I thought confessing he was a relation of mine wouldn’t do a thing for me. And by that time, anyway, Matthew had accepted the fact that I was daft enough to have ventured over that river for no reason at all. He thought I was the prize new-chum of all time.’ Well, certainly Christine Dunmuirson had a great faculty for saying nothing at all in the most devastating way. She doesn’t believe me, thought Joanna; well, I can’t help it. At that moment she heard the truck. She stood up hastily. ‘You can just sit down,’ said Christine then, ‘there’s no need whatever to warn him I’m here.’ She said it in such a tone of authority that Joanna did indeed sit down. She heard Matt bound up the rock steps. He must have seen the helicopter land. He wouldn’t expect it to be Christine. Joanna felt sick.

He came on in, didn’t stop to scrape his boots even, came along the concretefloored porch with ringing footsteps, crossed the work kitchen, pushed open the door into the big one, then stood, struck dumb, on the threshold. Joanna wanted, above all things, to run. She didn’t want to witness his humiliation, to have her see Christine cracking the whip over him. Joanna knew, with a horrible sort of sureness, that he’d never intended her to know of this discrepancy in their ages. ‘Come in, Matt,’ said Christine. ‘You have quite a lot to explain. Miss Marlowe has flown nobly to your defence — which may or may not mean a thing — but I think you and I have still a few things to say to each other. She appears to have put me in possession of most of the facts, but I still want to know why you found it necessary to lie so blatantly to me about her... er... vital statistics!’ Joanna glanced at Christine quickly, but there wasn’t a glimmer of a smile on her face. To her immense surprise Matt grinned, crossed the room and dropped a light kiss on the cheek nearest him (in spite of herself Joanna winced) and said, ‘Don’t pretend you don’t know, Chris... you’ve had this obsession for years and we’ve let you get away with it because you were such a damned good scout in other ways. I’d told Joanna about it, so she got a scare when you rang up — oh, not because she felt guilty, but because she knew it could affect me.’

‘So she said she was helping Marguerite with the children and I carried on from there. And then — well, you ought to know what I am by now — I couldn’t resist embroidering it. I went too far. You know what I am for kidding. Once I start I can’t stop. Though I admit that then I did want to get her away from here without you knowing. Didn’t want any postmortems. Well, now the thing’s blown sky-high and it doesn’t matter a damn!’ Christine was gazing at him. ‘Doesn’t matter a damn to you? How can you dismiss it as lightly as that when you know what conditions I laid down? Matt...’ her eyes narrowed, ‘exactly what has come over you? I have a right to know.’ Joanna felt sick again. She looked anxiously at Matthew and found the grin had left his face. He looked ferocious. ‘Well, all right, Chris! I’ve done all the explaining I’m going to do. You can do damn-all you like about that, Christine. After all, there are other places besides Heronscrag. I’ve just about had enough. You can—’ Joanna flew at him, grabbed his arm. ‘Don’t, Matthew! Don’t! You belong here. I can’t undo the harm I’ve done, but don’t, don’t lose your temper and do anything you’ll regret. Oh, how I wish I’d never come here! I’ve ruined things for you. Now, I’m going to go outside ... I’ll go and meet the men and keep them outside for a bit and you two can sort out your differences.’

Matthew looked absolutely thunderstruck. He gazed into her face and angrily shook her hands off him. ‘I can manage my own affairs — do you hear? No other woman is going to tell me what I can do and what I can’t do. I’ve had it. I’m going to tell Christine exactly what I think and you’re going to stay and hear it.’ ‘I’m not,’ she said, and there was that in her voice that made him know she’d fight like a wild-cat if he tried to detain her by force. She paused at the door, turned round and said, ‘I told Mrs. Dunmuirson something I never told you, Matthew. That there was a reason for my taking photos of Heronscrag. I’m a great-niece of Henry Worthington Dean, though I knew him for only a few weeks. But you all thought so badly of him here in the Mackenzie country I thought it better to keep quiet. That’s all.’ But because she was Joanna it wasn’t all. She turned back and said, ‘Michael’s still asleep. In arguing this out don’t forget to listen for him.’ As she passed the kitchen window a moment later she was unable to help looking in. She saw Christine put her head down on the table in an attitude that suggested utter anguish — and Matt cross swiftly to her. It gave Joanna a bitter taste in her mouth. Yet presumably she had done the right thing in leaving them together.

Joanna fled down the hill as if all the furies of Hell pursued her. She could see the men coming up on the horses and Bill and Flynn had the children in front of them. They pulled up in amazement as she reached them. Flynn, though his eyes were narrowed, tried to make light of it. ‘Well, and it’s sure a good welcome we’re getting today. But who dropped in, Jo?’ She looked up at them. ‘Christine!’ she said. ‘Holy catfish!’ said Bill. Hew moved quickly for once. He swung down, said, ‘Come on, youngsters, you go off and feed the fowls. And don’t forget to change their water and gather what eggs there are.’ They heard Toby say, ‘Do you think Aunt Chris will have brought us some chocolate?’ as they raced off. Then the four adults all faced each other. Flynn said, ‘Knowing Christine, I take it that was some meeting?’ Joanna gulped, said, ‘Yes. Did Matt ever tell you how he described me when she rang up and I answered the phone? It was when you were up the valley when I first got stranded here.’ Bill burst out laughing. ‘He did. Thought it a whale of a joke.’ Joanna said, ‘Well, it’s certainly rebounded on him now. It’s all my fault. I wish I’d never thought of coming to take snaps of Uncle Henry’s old home.’

She realized this had had a silencing effect on them and added, waving an agitated hand, ‘Oh, I forgot. You won’t know. Matt only knew a few moments ago. Henry Dean was my mother’s uncle. I’d never even heard of him till a few weeks before I left England. But none of that matters now. What does matter is that I’ve ruined things for Matt. He flew off the handle, told Christine he’d had enough — that there were other places besides Heronscrag — that—’ Flynn interrupted her. ‘Did he now? Good for him! He’s humoured her far too long... go on, go on, girl, what else did he say?’ Joanna said, ‘I don’t know. I guess he’s saying plenty. Only as I passed the kitchen window, Christine was crying.’ Another sensation. Then Hew said feebly, ‘No! Not really. It’s too much out of character.’ ‘Well, she was!’ said Joanna. She turned to the older man. ‘Oh, it’s so horrible! Hew, I know it’s none of my business, but I’ve got to say it to someone. How on earth can Matthew even consider marrying her? She must be at least fifty!’ Well, that was the third sensation, but this time they looked knocked cold. Three mouths fell open, three pairs of eyes goggled. Joanna, mystified by their reaction, stared at them.

Then Flynn shut his mouth, swallowed and said, ‘Have you gone stark, raving mad? Marry her? She’s in the nature of an aunt to him. At least she’s Marguerite’s aunt. A sort of forty-second cousin to Matt. He’s her heir. And she isn’t fifty. She’s sixty if she’s a day!’ The world went spinning round Joanna, spinning too fast, and all of a sudden she sagged. The next moment Bill and Flynn had hold of her and were bending over and forcing her head down between her knees. Joanna felt the blood rushing back, waited a moment, then straightened up and said, ‘Oh, tell me again. Tell me what you said.’ Hew took her arm, led her to a convenient rock and said, ‘And now sit there, girl, and be taking it quietly. Matt was telling us you took a terrible toss last night and he had to put four stitches in you.’ Joanna said urgently, ‘That’s nothing to do with this, believe me. Oh, what have I said? To Matt and to Chris? Oh, what a fool I’ve made of myself!’ Then she straightened up and said, ‘But Matt said this Christine was his fiancée. Truly he did. And the children said she was a widow. I was prepared for her to be a little older than him, but — when she came across from that helicopter and told me her name I nearly passed out there and then. I thought Matt must be marrying her for the property.’

Joanna stopped and went scarlet as she saw the look on their faces. It was the only time they had ever looked at her with anything but kindness and approval. She clapped her hands over her mouth. Then she said, ‘Oh, don’t, don’t look at me like that. I’m — not myself — I — believe me, I didn’t want to believe that of Matt — but I’ve had no time to think since she arrived. And she went mad at me. About why Matt had lied to her — why he had said I was... l-long in the t-tooth and — and thirty-six and fat. Very fat.’ Two tears welled up into Joanna’s eyes and rolled down her cheeks, quite preventing the glance that had passed between Bill and Flynn when she’d said she hadn’t wanted to believe it. Hew sat down on the rock beside her and passed her an indescribable khaki handkerchief because Joanna seemed to be fumbling for one she couldn’t find. It smelled of sheep, but Joanna used it gratefully. She sniffed. ‘Well, naturally, when she’s so suspicious and possessive I thought — I thought she was in love with him. But if she isn’t, what’s the matter with her?’ Hew took her hand. ‘Perhaps I’m the one to do the explaining since I’ve lived in these parts all my life. But the lads know the story too. You said — didn’t you? — that Henry Dean was your great-uncle? Well, Christine was engaged to him long ago when times were very hard. She worked in Christchurch,

trying to get a bit put by to help them through their first year of marriage. She was madly, crazily in love with him. And then she found out that he had a woman up here, living with him. ‘She gave him up. Henry didn’t survive the scandal — in those days and in a community like this it really was a scandal — so he cleared out and she married someone on the rebound, and out of sheer pity. A delicate chap who needed her. Quite out of the blue he was left a large legacy. Heronscrag was still on the market and Chris bought Gerard up here, but it was too late. He died. ‘She’s got no family of her own and she has very dyed-in-the-wood ideas. One is that she doesn’t like people waiting till you die till they inherit. Another is that it isn’t good for a young fellow to have a property dropped into his lap. So Matt has a sort of mortgage on this property, only he doesn’t pay any interest. The biggest proportion of his wool cheque goes to paying off principal. Even so it will be years before it’s his. But that was all based on a certain agreement, which Matt signed in good faith, putting it down to a kink in a slightly eccentric relation.’ Hew paused. Joanna said feverishly, ‘Go on. Go on. What was the condition?’ The grizzled man in front of her said reluctantly, ‘That he held this interestfree agreement only so long as he never became involved in any scandal.’

At the look on Joanna’s face Flynn said quickly, ‘No, don’t look like that, Jo. You couldn’t help involving Matt like this. I think Christine can be, must be made to see reason. We’ll all back Matt up.’ But none of them could be sure Christine would. Christine was a crank, embittered by Uncle Henry’s betrayal of her trust. Such people often were incapable of judging fairly. No wonder Matt had hoped to get Joanna away! But everything had been against them. Bill said curiously, ‘I still don’t get one thing. I can’t imagine for a single moment Matt saying he was engaged to Christine. What in thunder would he do it for? Are you sure you didn’t mistake something he said?’ Joanna pondered it. Finally, ‘No. I don’t see how I could have made a mistake. Because he didn’t say it... I did. He could have contradicted me. It was that night — not long after I got here — when you were still up the valley. The night Christine rang up. I said to Matthew later that I wouldn’t have dreamed of answering it if I’d thought it would be his fiancée. And he didn’t contradict me.’ She stood up. ‘So it isn’t altogether my fault. If letting me believe that was his idea of a joke, then it was in extremely poor taste. The only other reason I can think of is that he’s perhaps one of these wary bachelors. He need not have worried. Our worlds lie apart.’ ‘Do they?’ asked Flynn, and they all three looked at her searchingly.

‘Yes,’ she said shortly, and turned away, saying, ‘Well, that just about wraps it up. Before I leave I hope I’ll have the pleasure of telling Matthew exactly what I think of him for letting me believe that, and making a fool of myself in front of you three.’ Hew said, ‘No need to feel like that, Jo. Everyone feels foolish some time in their lives. And it’s a funny thing — we’re more ashamed of being thought foolish than we are of being thought wicked. Human nature’s queer. But we’re your friends, Jo. We’ll never forget how you buckled into that cooking.’ Tears stung her eyes again for a moment. ‘Thank you, Hew,’ she said. ‘Now we must get back. You must be absolutely dead beat and wanting hot water and food.’ She grinned at them. ‘Just for a change, we’re having mutton!’ They burst out laughing, a little relieved. ‘Never mind, it can be venison tomorrow. We put a couple of haunches in the truck.’ She said nervously, ‘Will this Christine overlook these tensions while the children are up? I mean I just dread the thought of this meal. And I’ll have to be very distant with Matthew so Christine is convinced I’m nothing but a nuisance to him.’ Flynn said, patting her shoulder, ‘We’ll back you up. Chris isn’t such a bad old thing really — in fact she can even be fun — and she’s quite good with the kids. She came up once when Marguerite was first here. And she was

extremely kind to Marguerite. I think she’ll behave all right. Well, lead on, Macduff.’ Joanna led on. She’d not let anyone see she was afraid. Though she did wish she didn’t feel such an arrant coward inside. They met up with the children at the stock-gate. That was a help. Philippa took her hand. ‘Are you all right, Joanna?’ Joanna managed to smile at her. ‘Yes, fine. My arm is a bit sore, that’s all. Have a good time at the river?’ ‘Yes... we got there far too early and Matt took us right to the top of Chimney Peak and we saw—’ Toby got in, ‘And we saw the river-grader at work, with the binoculars. On the far side, of course. Matt reckoned they’d be across here by tomorrow, then we’ll be able to cross it again.’ Philippa squeezed Joanna’s hand, ‘Do you have to go as soon as you can get over, Joanna? Do you have to go back to England?’ Joanna squeezed the hand in return. ‘Yes, I must, darling. But we should be able to ring your mother tonight, Philippa. You’ll probably be able to speak to her. Or if not, tomorrow morning. And you never know, I think Matt thinks you might be able to go down to Timaru for the rest of the school holidays.’

‘I wish,’ said Philippa, ‘that you could stay on and Mummy could come home now.’ They came into the kitchen and Toby immediately saved the awkwardness of the situation by dashing across and kissing Christine Dunmuirson. ‘Aunt Chris, you ought to see me ride now! Did you bring any chocolate up?’ Joanna was amazed to hear Christine chuckle. ‘Perfect example of cupboard love, young man. Still, at my age, it’s better than nothing.’ She bent down to the bag at her feet, unzipped it, and drew out a box. She took the lid off and displayed a selection of caramel bars, tablets of chocolate and some packets of jelly beans and gum babies. ‘I knew you’d have run out long since. You can have exactly two squares of chocolate each now, and some more before you go to bed. The rest can go in the store and be doled out to you. You’ll have to ask Matt for them. I dare not give you any more just now or you won’t eat your dinner.’ It sounded so ordinary and grandmotherish, Joanna felt a little tension slip away from her. She said, ‘The men are just going to tub — and after that the dinner will be ready. It’s all in the casserole. Nothing elegant, I’m afraid.’ ‘Sounds all right to me,’ said Christine. ‘I’ll leave it to you. We’ll get the men out of the way and the children in bed, then you and I and Matthew will have a long talk in the lounge. The men will play cards out here.’

Joanna said stiffly, ‘Very well, but I can’t promise Michael will go down very early tonight. He has slept too long this afternoon.’ ‘I quite realize the children must come first. But it doesn’t matter how late it is.’ Meaning that whatever the hour there was going to be a showdown. Joanna went in to find that Michael had been awake some time evidently and that he had amused himself by picking at the buttonholing edge on his blanket and had got most of it unravelled. She put him into an oatmealcoloured woollen suit with bands of deep blue and slowly walked him into the kitchen. Then she steadied him, let him go carefully, and he walked clean across the room till he reached Matt and could clutch him round the knees. Attention always focused on a baby, which was just as well. It was just as the men had predicted, the meal went on in a fairly conventional way, with the shepherds not allowing long silences. They had plenty to tell Christine and Matthew about conditions in the valleys and the extent of the losses and general aftermath of the thaw. Joanna was fully occupied in serving them all. Michael, praise be, sat happily in his chair chewing on a rusk of bread baked hard. She would feed him later when she could give all her time to him. She hardly joined in the conversation at all. Matthew tried to draw her in once or twice, but finally gave it up.

When she was bringing in the coffee from the work kitchen he slipped out. He caught her hand, said, ‘It’s all right, Joanna. Not to worry. It will all come out right.’ She freed herself with a perceptible shudder. ‘Don’t you dare touch me! I’m not worrying. Why should I? It’s nothing to do with me. I’ll be gone in a day or two, perhaps even tomorrow. The children said the grader is at work. And I never want to see any of you again. You made a perfect fool of me!’ He blinked. ‘I did? How?’ Joanna gritted her teeth at him. ‘How? You don’t need to ask. You told me Christine was your fiancée... at least I assumed she was and you let me go on believing it. And I let it out to the men. You left it to them to tell me the truth. You want to thank your lucky stars I didn’t let it out to Mrs. Dunmuirson. I may have been appalled at all this happening — for your sake — when I left the kitchen and fled down the hill to the men, but not now. Oh, no, not now!’ Matthew said, ‘Oh, good God! I’d forgotten about that. Look—’ At that moment Philippa swung the door open and said, ‘Can we help you carry anything in, Jo? How’s the arm?’ Joanna was extremely grateful to her. There were things she intended to say to Matthew, things that would make his ears burn for days, but she didn’t want to sandwich it in between pudding and coffee. She was careful to keep occupied with the children as long as possible.

It was eight-thirty before she got Michael down. She couldn’t postpone this talk any longer, she supposed. But she changed out of her tartan trews and sweater. In fact, she showered. They could jolly well wait for her. The shower toned her up. She even put on a frock Matt had once said he liked. It might brace her quailing spirit a little to know she looked her best. It was a russet velvet with a square-cut neckline caught at one side with a golden buckle. And she fastened round her throat the very fine topaz necklace that had been one of Maria’s gifts to her. She brushed her hair slightly off her ears and well away from her forehead, dabbed skin perfume behind her ears and on her throat. She needed the confidence good grooming would give her. She had nothing else, no family to back her up. Not a single soul to care that her soul and spirit were bruised even as her legs and ribs had been bruised in that fall last night. Her mirrored eyes looked gravely back at her. If only, if only she could have gone back over the river this morning with the memory of Matt’s kiss and Matt’s ‘God Bless’ untarnished by the knowledge that he had lied to her, lied without reason. Joanna took a good grip on herself and went along to the lounge. As she neared the door Matt came from the direction of the kitchen. He too had changed. He wore light fawn corduroy trousers and a blue shirt under a

deeper blue pullover. This made his eyes more blue than ever in his tanned face. His fair hair, stubbly and defiant and slightly bleached at the ends, had an aggressive air about it tonight. He pushed the door open, motioned her in. As she entered, he said to her and to Christine, who was sitting on a hard, carved chair, ‘Now, if the children should want anything, the men are going to attend to them. This is not going to be interrupted again and we’ll push it through to the end.’ Joanna, refusing a chair, and standing against the centre table, said, ‘I don’t really think I should be here at all. It has nothing to do with me. I’ll be gone from here — thank goodness — by tomorrow, I should think. The children told me the river-grader was working on the far side today. If not, I want Mrs. Dunmuirson to tell me the name of the helicopter company and where I can ring them and I’ll charter it to fly me out. You can take the car to the Fairlie firm later. I’ve had enough!’ Matt made an impatient movement of his hand that she found most irritating. ‘And don’t act like that, Matthew Greenwood,’ she said, ‘as if you were the Lord of Creation. You’ve got me in here to have your say, evidently. Well, I’m having mine. I went off this afternoon so you and your — your cousin — could have it out together and hoped that would finish it. How much time do you want?’

‘We didn’t have any,’ said Matthew. ‘First Marguerite rang and I had to give her all the news at length. I couldn’t do less when a mother had been cut off from all news of her children for so long. And then Michael woke and I had to change him. You simply can’t go on having the row of your life when you’re changing a baby!’ None of them thought this in the least funny, but Joanna looked bewildered. ‘The row of your life? But does it have to be that? I’m quite sure that by now Mrs. Dunmuirson must indeed realize that there’s nothing between us. That, in fact, we’ve spent most of our time quarrelling. We had to pull together when the children were around, but I’ll be more glad than I’ve been in the whole of my life to see the last of Heronscrag. I’m hoping I—’ Matthew cut in. ‘Joanna, this is getting us nowhere. I got interrupted in what I was saying to Christine when you went charging out of the house and I won’t be interrupted again. I want to say something to Christine this very moment and I want to say it in front of you.’ Christine instinctively drew herself up as if to brace herself. ‘Yes, Matt?’ she said. She looked so strange, so different. As if all the fire and fight had gone out of her. Matt crossed to the hearth, quite automatically taking up the age-old dominant position of the male head of the household, folded his arms and said, ‘I’ve had it. I’ve completely had it. That condition you made never

meant a thing to me, Chris. Mainly because I could never imagine a situation where it could take effect. I simply humoured you in it. I knew you had a kink on the subject, but because I admired you so much — apart from that one thing — I went along with you.’ ‘Certainly, when Joanna was first stranded here, I wanted to get rid of her. She didn’t mean a thing to me... then.’ He was looking at Christine, not Joanna. ‘I thought she was just an unnecessary complication and didn’t want to have to explain her to you. But now... now I’ve got to the stage where this stupid obsession of yours has got to end. I’ll pull my money out of Heronscrag, Christine. And if you want the interest I should have paid, you can have it. There are, as I started to say to you earlier today, other high-country runs. I want one that will be all mine. I’d rather pay any rate of interest than be subject any longer to your whims and caprices.’ Christine got up, swung her chair round, and stood facing him, with her hands on the back of it. Joanna watched the pair of them, numbed but fascinated. Christine said, ‘I get it. Despite what Joanna has said, you’re hoping to marry her.’ Joanna saw Matt’s nostrils tighten. Was that temper? Was he putting too tight a rein on himself? Because—

He said evenly, ‘Joanna is going back to England. The only reason why I insisted on having her in here is because I don’t want her to go away thinking I would really dance to a tune of your piping, Christine.’ Some emotion she could not have named was overwhelming Joanna. He was throwing away something he’d striven for for eight years. Throwing away an inheritance. Because of pride. All very well, but when she, Joanna, was gone away to the other side of the world, what would it matter? Regret would set in. Resentment that she had ever come into his life. Joanna was sure now Christine wouldn’t carry out her original threat. She was sure Christine knew there had been nothing between them. It was something she had imposed out of her own private bitterness. She had been getting square with the opposite sex that way. But she could surely see now that Joanna had no tender feelings for Matt or he for her. Joanna stepped forward and cried, ‘You mustn’t do this, Matt. You mustn’t! You love Heronscrag. You’ve worked and struggled here in terribly tough circumstances to make it pay, to make it your own. It’s your very life-blood. I’m sure Mrs. Dunmuirson knows that there has been no scandal. Don’t you, Mrs. Dunmuirson? Don’t you?’ Before Christine could answer Matt swung round on Joanna. ‘What does it matter to you? What do I matter to you? You’re just furious with me because when I spoke of Christine you thought she was my fiancée and I let you go on

thinking it. So that brands me as a liar and you’re all high and mighty about it! That’s what you meant at dinnertime, wasn’t it? Well, what about you? A girl who’s engaged and comes up here without a ring is living a lie. Is that any better? Because I can’t see the distinction. So what?’ Joanna just looked at him and kept on looking. She opened her mouth twice but couldn’t frame the words. Matt nodded as if her silence proved her guilt. ‘Are you and Shane going to make it up?’ he demanded. ‘He’s probably ready to capitulate. He’ll get you a fiat of your own away from Maria, I’m sure — any man would. Are you going to make it up? Are you? Answer me! Are you?’ Joanna’s voice came out strangled, but at least it came. ‘Make it up? Make what up? Me and Shane? Matt, what are you talking about?’ He looked disgusted. ‘Oh, don’t give me that! You’re caught cut properly. Maria Delahunt told me you were taking this time off because you and Shane had quarrelled, that you were doing this out of pique and to bring him to heel. And you said yourself that you wouldn’t live in the same house with Maria after you were married.’ He stopped, looked at Joanna’s face and said, ‘But if it isn’t that... I mean if you aren’t going to make it up—’ he stopped dead. Joanna saw the dull red creeping up from his collar. Joanna advanced another step towards him. ‘Go on, Matthew, go on. I’d very much like you to finish that.’

There was something in her eyes that would not let him go. They were blazing into his, compelling him to finish. Her lips began to curve into a smile. He said, a crease between his brows, no answering smile on his lips, ‘Because if you aren’t going to make it up, Joanna, I’m damned sure I’m crazy enough to ask you to marry me!’ ‘Then,’ said Joanna very clearly in a high, unnatural voice, ‘I just wish you’d go ahead and get it over so I can accept you! Because I have never been engaged to Shane, Shane Burford loves a girl called Anne West who won’t have him while he lives under Maria’s dominance. Maria wanted the two of us to marry. So she lied to you as she has lied before!’ Matt stared, blinked, then laughter leapt into his eyes, he took a step forward, Joanna took a step forward, reaching out her hands for his, and at that moment Christine Dunmuirson said ‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’ It stopped their imminent embrace just as if a moving picture had suddenly been turned into a still. Both faces turned towards her. Christine started to laugh. They watched her, fascinated. Joanna felt in that instant she could understand how beautiful Great-uncle Henry’s Kirsty had been when young. Yes, those eyes were like paua-shell, even if the copper hair had turned snow-white. Christine sobered up. ‘Well, I never thought that I’d be present at anyone’s proposal. Look, I ought to do the decent thing and let you get off by

yourselves, I know, but — you’ve got all the rest of your lives ahead of you. You’ve made your point, Matt. You needn’t leave Heronscrag. I was a foolish, bitter woman. But not any more. I haven’t been for the last three months.’ ‘The reason why I was so furious, so suspicious, was because you lied to me, Matt, on the phone. I can see now that it was just that streak of deviltry in you. And perhaps my attitude was responsible for that. You’d not know how I’d take it.’ Joanna said firmly, ‘It was my fault. I got caught on the hop by that phone — knew Matt didn’t want to broadcast my presence — I ought to have told you right away who I was and how I’d got there. Evasion is never any good. Matt couldn’t confess after that, could he? and—’ But Christine swept on. ‘Then when I saw that newspaper article in Christchurch on the way home, I just had to get up here and see what was going on.’ Together Joanna and Matt said ‘Newspaper article?’ Christine nodded. ‘Maria Delahunt gave an interview to the Star. They asked her what she thought of our record snowstorm. Cashmere Hills got it very badly, you remember. She gave a highly exaggerated account of the romantic plight which her adopted daughter and secretary was in, marooned on a high-country run right in the Alps. It gave your name, Joanna, and your

picture. A very glamorous picture. It didn’t fit Matt’s graphic description of you at all.’ Joanna couldn’t believe this was happening. The only reality was that Matt’s fingers were entwined in hers, their pressure saying to her ‘Be patient, Joanna... a few moments more and we’ll be alone.’ Happiness was breaking in on her in such a wave that she felt she almost wanted to postpone that final moment, to be able to savour the delights of anticipation. ‘And then,’ said Christine, with a grin, ‘something else happened that made me more furious than ever, sure something was going on. But I can sure understand it now. Before setting out on that helicopter from Timaru, I rang the Richards.’ The twinkle in her eye became more pronounced as she looked at Matt. ‘I thought I would discreetly inquire from Morwyn if a girl from England was staying at Heronscrag, had got stranded there. I told him the day and date I’d rung you, he said you were there then. He said if so you couldn’t possibly have been stranded and wanting to get out because later than that, he’d offered to fly in, if you wanted anything, and that he went down to Timaru that day. So you could have gone with him, Joanna.’ Joanna cried, ‘But don’t you see? Matt didn’t want anyone to know, in case you got to hear of it. He was in an awful quandary.’ Matt laughed a laugh of pure merriment. ‘Joanna, do you mind if I answer for myself? That wasn’t the reason at all. Actually at the time I did it, the reason

surprised even myself. I turned that offer down quite instinctively... my reaction was immediate and only afterwards did I analyse it... girl, it was because I didn’t want you to go. As simple as that. Even though I fought the attraction with all my might and main. But there’s time and plenty to work all these things out later. There’s one thing I must know. Chris, what did you mean when you said you’d not been bitter for the last three months? Tell me, can it be what I think — hope — it is?’ Chris’s lips twitched. ‘What do you think, Matt?’ His eyes held sheer affection for her. ‘That you’re going to get married again?’ She laughed, shaking her head, though her eyes were wistful. ‘No, Matt. Just that something happened three months ago that was too wonderful to believe even if — it — it came too late. When I was in Christchurch then, the bank in Timaru forwarded on a letter. It had come from Hamilton. The address on the back simply said “Mrs. J. Wessling”. That meant nothing. But when I saw the signature inside it certainly did. Such an unusual name — Eulalie Wessling. She had been Eulalie Armstrong. Eulalie was the girl Henry had here.’ Matt said, ‘Yes, go on, go on.’ There was never a tremble in Christine’s voice. ‘She said she wanted to see me on a matter of great importance. I hated going, but I found the courage for it,

even though I felt it might have been more dignified to have ignored it. Thank God I didn’t.’ ‘Eulalie told me that she had just recovered from a most serious heart operation. She had thought she was going to die and in thankfulness for a new lease of life, decided to put right a great wrong she had done. Henry was guiltless. She was mad about him. She belonged up here, of course, and I lived in Christchurch. She had ridden through the river. Henry lived here alone at that time. Things were too bad to employ labour.’ ‘He was up the valley when she arrived. The house was never locked, of course. By the time he got back she had been here two days and the river was up. She was there a week. She told me Henry had been furious, had removed himself to the empty shearers’ quarters. When the river was down he took her straight over, on horseback. It was sheer misfortune that I’d gone up to my great friends at Taumata that day. I had wanted to surprise Henry. We — Jim Benneson and I — were on our horses, going to Heronscrag. I’d been there a couple of days waiting for the river to subside. We were hidden by the trees at the end of their drive when Henry and Eulalie came up from Heronscrag direction. I had far too much pride to tackle Henry. He never knew I’d been up then. I went to see Eulalie. She said Henry was lonely, that she had lived with him for months.’ Christine faltered. ‘I — I always had too much pride. I—’ Joanna said softly, ‘So you told him you couldn’t take the life he had to offer. You said he was crude, that he lacked polish, that he had no finer feelings...’

Christine was staring at her. So was Matt. Christine said, ‘Go on, Joanna. Tell me every single thing he said about me.’ Joanna said, ‘He told me your hair was pure copper in the sunlight, that your eyes were turquoise like Lake Tekapo, or like paua-shell, blue one moment, green the next. He thought that by now you probably had sons and daughters and grandchildren.’ Christine said, ‘And did he have children? Grandchildren? Did he find happiness? And was he bitter about me, Joanna? Tell me, tell me every single thing he ever said. I’ve spent three months trying to trace him. Not that I meant to go to see him. I’d have been an embarrassment rising up out of long ago. Just that I wanted to know if he was well and happy, if he was in any need. If he’d been well and happy I’d have come away satisfied. But I did think I’d like to see him, unobserved, just once.’ Joanna said slowly, ‘He never married. He was very successful farming in Australia, though he never loved it quite as well as he did the mountains of the Mackenzie. Though that may have been because of you. Even the way he said your name was lovely, Kirsty. That was why I didn’t guess it was you. Matt always said Christine. Uncle Henry said, when he spoke of the possibility that you might have sons and daughters and grandchildren, that none of them could ever have loved you as he loved you. And when he had got all that off his chest, he fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.’ Joanna’s eyes were intent on Christine’s face.

Christine controlled her lips with an effort, said, ‘And he didn’t wake up again. He didn’t suffer?’ Matt wondered at the light that sprang into Joanna’s eyes at that moment. She said in a low, clear voice, ‘Christine, he didn’t die. He got well. It’s as simple as that. I was taking photos for him as well as for myself.’ Christine Dunmuirson put her face into her hands and began to weep. Joanna moved to her, put her arms round her. It was all of half an hour before Christine had finished her questioning, her planning. Then she got up, kissed them both, said, ‘You’ve been very patient, my darlings. If — if Henry will have me, we’ll get a house at Lake Tekapo. I believe in young people having their home to themselves. But I’ll keep my quarters here and we’ll spend a lot of time here in sight of the mountains Henry loved so well. And now...’ a mischievous light sprang into the greenblue eyes, ‘... I’ll let you sign and seal that proposal I witnessed. It was very naughty of me to stay so long, but I didn’t dare let you fight it out yourselves. You might have made a hash of it as Henry and I did. As l did.’ She paused at the door, added, ‘I won’t stay to ask any more questions because I have an idea that the answer to that will be better given between two people than three, but some time I’d just love to know why you pretended you were engaged to me, Matt!’

The door closed behind her and Joanna said, with mischief in her eyes but purpose too, ‘And so would I!’ Matthew strode to the door, turned the key, came back to her and held out his arms. ‘Well, you can just wait for that explanation, Joanna Marlowe. First this.’ The topazes glinted in the light as she made a swift movement towards him. She saw his eyes, laughing and blue, above hers, then he bent his head...

But that question had to be answered, even if it was much later. Joanna came back to it. He grinned. He grabbed her hands, keeping them imprisoned in his. ‘Just in case you smack my face.’ The crows-feet of laughter at the corner of his eyes had deepened. ‘I’d thought I’d stay a bachelor. I wanted it that way. I’ve seen so many men leave this area because wives couldn’t stand the isolation. Even wives who had lived on farms. Even on farms just over the river. There are not many women who can face this sort of life. Oh, I know you can, now. I have no doubts on that score. But here I was, thirty, not married, and I was falling in love with a girl from London. A girl who obviously knew the fleshpots — oh, yes, darling, even though you’d not been happy in Maria Delahunt’s set-up, I couldn’t imagine a girl with your background settling for this sort of life. That some time, you’d be bound to yearn for bright lights, shopping, theatres. I

made up my mind I’d have to resist you. So when you thought Christine’s possessiveness and phobia about scandal was because she was my fiancée, I let you go on thinking it. I tried to steel myself against you.’ He looked down on her as she lay in his arms, her head against his shoulder, and said, ‘But it was no use. I was all yours, even then. I’ll never forget how it stabbed when you said you just wished you could wave a wand and waft yourself across the river! Oh, Jo, Jo, think what’s ahead of us! I finally came to the stage where I was willing to give up Heronscrag, start somewhere else. Just as long as you were with me.’ ‘I used to dream at nights — when I couldn’t get to sleep because of you. I’d lie and look at those photos of Sally on my wall — my sister — and think of you in those same circumstances, skiing down these hillsides with me, walking with me in the garden in spring... I’d think of the things I’d like to do for you. There’s an old man in Fairlie who still has the art of raupo-thatching. I used to plan how I’d get it done for you, that little stone hut up in the Waimihi Valley. That we’d whitewash it again... that I’d move the hay out and rebuild the wall to shelter the nasturtiums. There’s a stream that wanders past it, Jo. And in December, when summer comes, we’ll sometimes spend a few nights up there as the Macphersons used to do. Will we, Jo?’ She turned in his arms and kissed him. ‘We will,’ she said. ‘Oh, Matt, Matt!’ She repeated softly, dreamily, ‘The two of us there by the side of the hearth

And the dark lonely night creeping up to the door, Your smile and your handclasp, Oh! man of my heart, I am asking no more.’ He kissed her again. She said, with a sigh, ‘I suppose we should go and tell the men even if Christine will have told them.’ He nodded. ‘They’ll want to toast us for sure. Be mean to make them wait any longer, wouldn’t it, after their gallant efforts at dinner to keep the conversation going while you and I and Christine seethed? Everything all right, Jo? No more doubts, no more questions? Speak now, or for ever hold your peace.’ She said, ‘That time we were tobogganing and we fell off. And you first called me Jo. You were going to say something. What was it? I can’t bear not to know. Can you remember?’ He thought, smiled. ‘I’ve got it. You said Jo sounded so friendly. I started off to say that it wasn’t friendship I was feeling, but dared not let myself go.’ Joanna said, ‘There’s just one other thing, but not a question.’ Her eyes were filled with laughter. ‘You’re never, never, never — under any circumstances — to cast it up to me that you had to teach your wife to cook!’ They stood up, hand in hand, and at that moment the lights came on all over the house!

Matt said excitedly, ‘Telephone... lights... and tomorrow the grader will make a new river-crossing! Thank heaven I got you beaten into submission before you could get away from me.’ ‘You did not!’ cried Joanna indignantly. ‘Christine did it.’ As they walked along the long hall, fingers linked, Matthew said, exultantly, ‘And you fell in love with it in August, in winter... you’ve seen it at its worst. Wait till I show you our December summer, Jo. The bandeddottrels will be back on the river-beds and the larches will be in leaf and the shining cuckoo calling... and the sky will be like a brazen blue bowl... and the wind will be hot, not icy.’ They stopped at the end window before the hall turned a corner. There was a moon over Erebus, silvering the whole sweep of the range. There were stars in attendance and chiffon wisps of cloud about the shoulders of the mountains... ‘Winter in August will do me,’ said Joanna.

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